Where The Streets Have Your Name

Now With Places And Things, Too!

by Stephen Von Worley on February 2, 2011

Thirteen months ago, as the story goes, I went mappy. Quoth myself:

Once upon a time, I lived in Oakland, California, near a tidy stripe of pavement called John Street. After the birth of my son John, who took my middle name, we’d occasionally roll by. I’d holler “Hey, look, it’s John Street!”, and even though he couldn’t read the signs, giggles and chuckles would invariably ensue.

Shortly after our move to Santa Cruz, we found a John Street there, and a few weeks ago, another in San Francisco. Gosh, roads named John seemed pretty common! Upon that realization, the geography dork sitting on my shoulder had something to quantify: how many existed, altogether, and where, exactly?

At that point, my simple question – the proverbial snowball – dribbled over the lip of a figurative cornice. During the ensuing metaphorical avalanche, I minted a giant pile of virtual maps, pinpointing the North American streets that share 2000-or-so common first names. Using them, John – and almost anyone else – could quickly view their far-flung assortment of asphalt namesakes. Hive in mind, I blogged ’em.

People dug the Google Earth interface. But its clunky, baboon-butt-ugly, 100%-Web-safe HTML companion? Not so much. The latter needed a revamp, so…

Last weekend, I whipped up Version 2.0. Coverage is now worldwide, and in addition to streets, each map includes namesake towns, parks, rivers, and more. Type your first name below, press Map It!, then click the red pushpins to zoom:

Update: A change to Google Maps has hit this feature with the ugly stick. A fix is on the TODO list.

Find This First Name:

Atop the map, note the magic pushpin button, which instantly beams you to a matching place. It’s a perfect way to introduce low-attention-span audiences – whether they be toddlers, whippersnappers, or hipsters – to the wonderful world of maps and geography.

And if you happen upon a dangling pushpin, don’t panic. Google Maps doesn’t always agree with OpenStreetMap, the geographic database where the coordinates came from. However, typically, they’re close, and the matching place is probably nearby. For visual confirmation, check the immediate vicinity, try the different map layers, deploy the yellow Street View man, and for U.S. locations, view the topo.

Major improvements in Version 2.0:

  • Worldwide Coverage: Yes, Virginia, this time, we really did search every corner of the earth for your name.
  • More Names: 3,000+ 10,000+ first names, sourced from the US SSA, UK ONS, and Wikipedia. We even tossed in a few pet names, so that you can grab Tigger or Fido and share some quality anthropogeographical time.
  • All Features: We included every matching feature from OpenStreetMap, of any type. Most are streets, but there’s also castles, caves, and other intriguing things. At first, we planned on filtering out restaurants and retail, but after extensive philosophical debate, they made the cut. For some, like San Francisco Bay area Zacharys and Barneys, this policy works out. On the flip side, to anyone named Chase or Denny, apologies in advance.

Have fun!

Credits: Kudos to the OpenStreetMap team and contributors, who painstakingly catalogued the information that made this project possible. All place name and location information is available under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license and extracted from the January 2011 OpenStreetMap planet XML dump. © OpenStreetMap & contributors, CC-BY-SA.

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