Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why Name a Street After Locusts?

EDIT: In record time, we have an answer. Thanks, Nancy! Is it weird that I had never heard of a locust tree before Nancy told me about it?

Look at a map of any city street grid and you’ll see what the city used to be and how people want it to seem. In among numbers, letters and cardinal directions, the last names of founding fathers and other notables intersect with trees and animals suggest nature even when the existence of the asphalt street and cement sidewalk quite likely displaced nature. Newer housing developments do this in a degraded way: Instead of historical people, it’s the developer’s wife and daughter and mother-in-law, and they’re criss-crossing absurd, contrived combinations of nature words. If you find yourself at the corner of Amber Leigh Avenue and Shadypalm Street, you almost definitely wandered into a part of the city that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Also, you probably made a wrong turn.

But I have a question that I was unable to answer by searching on the internet, and I’m wondering if posting it here might make the answer come to me. (It’s worked in the past.) What’s up with Locust as a street name? There’s a Locust Street here in Los Angeles, there is a Locus Avenue in my hometown and Google Maps tells me that there are Locust Streets all throughout California. Other states have them too, but I’m more interested in the Californian Locust Streets just because, unless I’ve misunderstood, we don’t often get locusts here, not like Midwestern states did back in Laura Ingalls Wilder times. (EDIT: Apparently there was an incident in Sacramento County this year.) But even for the states that did historically suffer those scary, farmland-decimating clouds of locusts, it seems odd to me that you’d want to namecheck something so unwanted and destructive, even considering the occasional tendency to give streets strange or unpleasant names.

So I’m asking you, internet: Why would anyone name a street after a locust? Why is there a Locust Street anywhere? And why are there so many in California?

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