What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Why do we give our houses names? In the past it was a way of connecting with our roots – a way of identifying with an English, Irish or Scottish background. Names such as “Alban” the Gaelic name of Scotland or “Erin” for Ireland were widely used, as were names that incorporated the word “Rose” to suggest an English ancestry. This link to the past was described as the “crimson thread that binds the British Empire”. More than nostalgia, the connection with the “mother country” was an essential part of our identity, on both a national and personal level.

Sometimes house names were more specific and identified a particular place from where the family emigrated or referenced an ancestral link, such as the name of the family seat in Britain. Often houses were given classical names that conveyed a certain gravitas and reflected the owner’s social aspirations.

However, there was a more practical reason for naming houses and that was because there were no house numbers. Before regular postal services were established in a community, mail was collected and dispatched from a central point such as a hotel or general store. House numbers were introduced when mail needed to be delivered to a specific address. This generally coincided with closer settlement and increased population. Properties on larger holdings retained their names for much longer.

During the Great War a shortage of manpower lead to greater regularisation of house numbers as postmen were replaced with postwomen. Numbering houses would make delivering mail more efficient and thereby assist the war effort, but it was also assumed it was necessary because the house names would not be familiar to the women who delivered the mail.

The cycle of boom and bust in the period before and after the Great War meant that not all the lots created by land subdivision were sold or built upon at the same time. This left a number of blocks vacant as land was either unsold or not developed creating an ad hoc numbering of houses.

This was regularised around 1915 and generally followed a pattern of numbering alternately, odd and even, right to left – starting from the intersection of the street and the main thoroughfare. Housing estates were seldom sold out completely when first subdivided, so there was always infill that needed to be allowed for in assigning house numbers. Previously city directories, showed lists of residents in each street, but there was no indication of where there were vacant allotments that might be built upon. This made identifying a particular house difficult if it was unoccupied or new houses were built around it. 

Unlike house numbers, the names of houses were not registered and could be changed on a whim. Australians have always demonstrated a whimsical sense of humour and have enjoyed poking fun at the pretension of those who give their houses grand names.

Some local examples gleaned from the 1924 Sands Directory for Concord. These include: “The Dugout” (Albion Street), “Chez Nous” (Archer Street) “The Nest” (Broughton Street), “The Bungalow” (Llewellyn Street), “Le Chalet” (Blaxland Road), “Emohruo” (Cross Street), “House of David” (Flavelle Street) and “The Struggle” (Cavendish Street).

There are other house names that might be described as tongue in cheek: “Opera” (Arthur Street), “El Retiro” (Correy’s Avenue), “Idleawhile”(Edward Street), “Mon-re-pos” (Walker Street), “Hom-e-gen” (Melbourne Street) “Wel-Wee-Du” (Llewellyn Street), “Y Worry” (Malta Street) and “I-Dun-No” (Lllewellyn Street). One can only guess at whether “Noel” (Station Street) was named after its owner or Christmas.

Aboriginal names include: “Wahgunah” – Our House (Sydney Street), “The Gunyah” (Princess Avenue), “Gunyah Waraldi” (Flavelle Street) and“Coo-ee” (Coles Street). There are Latin names such as “Dulce Domus” – Sweet Home (La Mascotte Avenue), French, “Maisonette” – small house (Sydney Street) as well as a multitude of houses named “Kia ora” – Maori greeting.

As might be expected so soon after the Great War, there are houses named for sites of battles, which at the time would have resonated in popular memory. For example: “Pozieres” (Mortlake Street), “Hamel” (Cross Street), “Fromelles” (Victoria Avenue), “Fleurbaix” (Turner Avenue) and “Verdun” (Queen Street) as well as “Anzac” (Concord Road), “Louvain” (Napier Street) and Lemnos” (Barton Street). Similarly, the names of Generals “Allenby” (Cabarita Road) and “Birdwood” (New Avenue) may be found in the list of houses.

The name, “Mascotte”, an archaic form of mascot, meaning something that brings good luck, is listed six times.  Although none of these houses were in La Mascotte Avenue.

Three years later, the 1927 edition of Wise’s Directory shows that while some houses retained their names, there were many changes. Recent subdivision of land in West Concord and the Yaralla Estate created a number of new streets, but fewer houses were named. Those that were seemed to have adopted more generic themes; named for euphonic idylls that might have been a green and pleasant village somewhere in England or more likely a name that evoked a sense of wellbeing without the link to the past evident in the earlier names. The cheeky humour is missing – replaced by words of hope and earnest endeavour, such as “Halcyon”, “Edenholme”, “Arcadia” and “Shalom”.

Andrew West

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City of Canada Bay Heritage Society

PO Box 152,
Concord NSW 2137
02 9744-8528

City of Canada Bay Museum

1 Bent Street,
Concord NSW 2137
02 9743-3034 (during museum hours)

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