Street names’ apostrophes

A mini-row has erupted for the umpteenth time about the removal of apostrophes from street names on English road signs. The latest belligerence revolves around St Marys Walk (a street formerly known as St. Mary’s Walk) in Harrogate. Harrogate is a spa town in Yorkshire.

I would love to describe Harrogate as genteel. That word describes the town’s ambience perfectly, but the BBC’s story on the episode beat me to this description. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-68942321

The BBC says that North Yorkshire Council has decided to remove apostrophes from all road names. As a result, a new sign for St Marys Walk has recently sprung up opposite a relic that still refers to St. Mary’s Walk.

Why drop the apostrophe?

According to the BBC, the Council has explained that, although it will consider including punctuation, where possible it will not include punctuation. This to comply with what British Standard BS7666 requires for databases containing street names and addresses. That Standard restricts the use of punctuation marks and special characters (apostrophes, hyphens and ampersands). The Standard does that because these characters have specific meanings in computer systems: including these characters could cause problems when people search databases.

Incidentally, the BBC’s pictures illustrating this story show that the new sign has also jettisoned the full stop (period) the sign’s predecessor used in the abbreviation St (formerly spelled St.)

2 ways of writing addresses

Digging a little further into this story, I came across a table illustrating the differences between:

  • official postal addresses in the UK; and
  • addresses complying with BS7666.

I had no idea that any such differences exist. I include the table below (with minor edits). I found the table in Street Naming and Numbering Policy, issued by Bath & North East Somerset Council https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/sites/default/files/sitedocuments/Planning-and-Building-Control/Name-Number-Property/bnes-street_naming_and_numbering_policyv4.pdf

Address elementIncluded in Postal Address?Included in BS7666 Address?
Flat number/nameNot usuallyAlways
Property numberAlwaysAlways
Property nameOnly if no numberMay be for any property
Street nameNot always in rural areasAlways
Locality/VillageWhere Royal Mail have operational needWhere such a name exists
TownWhere Royal Mail have operational needAlways
Post townAlwaysRecorded separately from actual Town
PostcodeAlways where allocatedAlways where allocated

Note that where a village or locality is recorded, it may not always be the same in the two types of addresses.

Stroppy editor

I first picked up this story from the blog Stroppy Editor. https://stroppyeditor.wordpress.com/2024/05/05/machines-rise/

The eponymous Stroppy Editor comments there that changes in using punctuation should be driven by the habits, needs and convenience of people, not by the needs of computers.

Up to a point, I agree with him that the computer tail should not wag the toponymic and orthographic dog. But an increasingly important why more and more people use and consume words is from databases and other electronic repositories. It would be foolish to ignore that fact in setting conventions on namings and spellings, even though many other factors may also be important.

Trivia

At the start of this post, I used street and road interchangeably. How many roads are there in the City of London? (I mean the ancient square mile at the heart of the modern metropolis, not the whole metropolis itself.) A quiz book once told me that the answer is one: Goswell Road. In fact, a more precise answer is more than zero and less than one. Goswell Road crosses the boundary and only part of it is in the City.

Why does the City of London have (almost) no ‘Roads’? Apparently, the reason is that the Romans brought to ancient Londinium both streets and the phrase via strata (‘paved way’). That phrase is the source of our word street.

There are, of course, many ‘Roads’ in the rest of London.

One comment

  1. I thought abbreviations that end with the same letter as the full word shouldn’t have a period. So Saint should be ‘St’ not ‘St.’

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