Last spring Robert Liberto moved his roofing business from the east side of town to an alley in West Baltimore. The company had room to grow in its newly renovated warehouse. The firm was closer to its government clients. Only one thing was missing: a street address.
For weeks, the mail for Mr. Liberto's Maryland Commercial Roofing Inc. arrived at various houses in the 1800 block North Payson Street, the block on the eastern edge of the 332-foot long alley. Mr. Liberto had used "1824 N. Payson St. (Rear)" as his business address.
"It really had no address," said Mr. Liberto. "It's ideal for us back here, but people were confused about where the mail should go. So I wanted a street."
What he got was a street name and number -- 2011 Danielle St. -- courtesy of the mayor and City Council of Baltimore. In a city that is home to alleys named Lemmon and Ajax, where streets memorialize women christened Aliceanna and Lorena, why a Danielle?
Why not? The city asked Mr. Liberto if he had any suggestions for the street name. So he offered that of his 8-year-old daughter. She "would get a kick out of it," he said.
And although city law expressly prohibits the naming of a street for a living person, the City Council didn't seem to mind. Neither did Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who signed into law the ordinance naming the 10-foot wide alley Danielle Street last summer.
Now, naming or renaming a public street is an infrequent occurrence. "Last year, we might have had five," says George A. Erpenstein, the city bureaucrat who oversees street naming. "This year we might not get that many."
The process begins with a suggestion by an individual, a community or a city bureaucrat. Each name change must be filed as a City Council ordinance, which is reviewed by the public works department and the city's historic and architectural preservation commission.
Under city guidelines, a public street cannot take the name of another street, of an existing business, product or a living person ("Today, you're a hero; tomorrow, you might fall off your white horse," Mr. Erpenstein said in explaining the prohibition on honoring the living.) And the new name is supposed to cover the entire length of the street. Residents can rename a private street in a petition to public works officials.
The council can disregard the guidelines -- as it did when it named only two blocks of Wilson Street in West Baltimore Islamic Way in 1990, after it initially renamed the entire street Islamic Way.
And it can ignore the public works department's recommendation -- as it did in June when it passed a bill at the request of the United House of Prayer for All People that renamed the dead-end, 600 block of West Preston Street, McCollough Circle, a near replay of McCulloh Street.
The last time the city undertook a wholesale renaming of city streets -- 897 to be exact -- was in 1927. World events could effect a street name change: The 1918 renaming of German Street to Redwood Street (in memory of the first Baltimorean killed in World War I, Lt. George Redwood) has been attributed to anti-German sentiment of the time.
But street names have been changed for less laudatory reasons.
Take Blenheim Road, from York Road to the city line at Gittings Avenue, which had been Bellona Avenue until April 8, 1921. "The present name sounds too much like bologna," according to one newspaper account. "As a matter of fact, it is so much like bologna that people in other parts of the city have come to call it 'Sausage Avenue.' "
Or Hartwait Avenue, found between Holabird Avenue and St. Stansilaus Street.
The year was 1953. An engineer was finishing a plat for a housing development, and he needed a name for a street. Nearby stood William Hart, a handyman and janitor for the Albert E. Pohmer Company. He was waiting for his pay envelope.
Then there was George B. C. Miller Sr., who was regarded as the Johnny Appleseed of city street naming. In the boom years of the 1950s, Mr. Miller, a city employee, named 500 streets, often playing tricks with names and words. He took Walnut and invented Tunlaw Road off Loch Raven Boulevard. To ensure his place in history, albeit inconspicuously, he created Rellim Road, a flip-flop of his name.
The 2,500 miles of Baltimore's streets and avenues, roads and alleys, boulevards and ways memorialize patriots and politicians, wives and daughters, lawyers and merchants, builders and inventors, estates and farms, popes and grocers.
Even a 19th century Hungarian freedom-fighter, Louis Kossuth, who visited Baltimore in 1851 in an effort to raise money for a revolt against Austria, is honored. That's the same Hungarian in whose honor a chocolate-frosted dessert of sponge cake and whipped cream was baked.
"When you name a street, the name lasts forever," Baltimore builder George W. Schoenhals said in 1940 when he named a street after his two granddaughters, Ann and Ellen Placht.