Sunday, October 26, 2008

Street Stories 2: “Lucus a non lucendo”

Fourth century Roman grammarian Honoratus Maurus gave examples in his writings of “etymology by opposites”. Putting it simply, his “Lucus a non lucendo” means calling a grove a “lucus” (similar to the word for light) made “sense” in that there was little light in a forest grove. In other words, it represents the far-fetched derivations cooked up for the meaning of street names as we know them today, in many cases.

In 1929, an anonymous writer in the Auckland Star used the same phrase, “lucus a non lucendo” to comment on the pattern being considered then for the renaming of Avondale’s streets.

Fifty-two streets in both the former Avondale Borough and Tamaki Road Board areas were on lists for reconsideration of name change by 1929. As the writer “W.M.” advised, Maori names were suggested for Avondale but discounted at the time. Taylor Street in Blockhouse Bay was “Taylor” in one part, “St Georges” in another (Taylor won out). Folk at the time weren’t happy about losing the name of Brown Street (now upper Rosebank Road between Blockhouse Bay Road and Great North Road), the name having been “so widely and so honourably associated with business that it was chosen for one of the chief business areas.” (I wonder which Mr. Brown this was who was so honoured? There had been at least two Browns of note in the 19th century story of Auckland enterprise.) The writer also queried why the more “euphonious” name of Manukau Road should be swapped for “Blockhouse Bay”.

But what really caught “W.M.’s” eye was the suggestion that Avondale, “with a few exceptions”, should be divided along the line of the railway when it came to deciding on street name changes – south of the line, the names coming from those of English counties, while north the names of trees were to be suggested. Take a look at a map of Waterview, Avondale and Blockhouse Bay today, especially one showing the line of the railway, and you’ll see what they meant by “north” and “south” of the line. South of the line you’ll see English and Irish place names crop up, ones which later commentators have erroneously explained away by saying it reflected the European patterns of settlement – but were actually just a matter of street renaming convenience for the Council and Post Office alike: Armagh, Exminster, Bolton, Crowther, Ulster, Wolverton, Tiverton, Holbrook, Margate, Hertford, Leinster, Bentleigh, and Donegal. In Waterview, a pocket of exception to the rule, with Middlesex, Daventry, Arlington, Hadfield, and Cowley north of the line. But in Avondale, the “north rule” brought the non-descriptive tree names: Plane, Aspen, Holly, Elm, Ash, Oregon and Maire. Trees by which the streets were never associated with at all.

Such is “Lucus a non lucendo”.

See also Street Stories 4.

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