top of page

What's in a (street) name? More than you think.

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Here’s something that philosophers and people with too much time on their hands have been debating for centuries: “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

A better question would be “If an author releases a fascinating book and it doesn’t reach the audience it should because everyone’s too busy worrying about a pandemic that could potentially decimate civilization, does it make an impact?”

It should.

In a recent issue of The Atlantic magazine, author Chelsea Leu wrote a piece about The Books Swallowed by the Black Hole of Coronavirus.

Some spectacular books, she posited, “had the terrible luck of being released in early 2020. They still deserve your attention.”

Among nine books she cited as being worthy of our attention was one by Chapel Hill native Deirdre Mask. Mask wrote a lauded book called The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth and Power.

It was released in April 2020, about a month after the coronavirus upended or constricted our lives and changed our focus.

Mask, who lives in London, was surprised to discover through her research that street addresses are a relatively recent phenomenon, that billions of people don’t have one and many don’t want one. (The reasons are fascinating and understandable when you delve into it.)

Now me, the only time I thought I’d thought about a street’s name was when I ran across a game about how to come up with your “Hollywood name.” The formula - you take your middle name and add it to your childhood street's name – is how I came up with “Wayne Stewart.”

Somehow, that doesn’t seem designed to set hearts afluttering and box office cash registers a’ringing.

Again, I thought I didn’t think about it. After discovering her book and the impact of street names and addresses on our lives, I realized that I remember the name of every street on which I’ve ever lived and the address. That’s borderline remarkable for a person who often can’t remember what he ate for breakfast without burping.

The book is a look into how addresses define and even circumscribe us socially and economically: in Australia, she noted, the wrong-named street can lower housing values by as much as 20 percent. An even more recent phenomenon than addresses is the zip code, which was added in the 1960s.

So that you don't think I'm touting the book just because I know the author's daddy - Dr. Allen Mask - and whole family, I'll mention that Time magazine named it one of the 100 Must-read books of 2020.

When Mask’s book and others that were overshadowed by the pandemic panic were released, many of us weren’t concerned about such matters.

Now that the fog appears to be lifting, though, maybe people will want to check out interesting and informative books that they missed.

Of course, if you still don’t feel comfortable venturing out to your local bookstore, you could always order it by mail or online.

If you have an address, it’ll probably be there in a zip.





Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


  • Twitter Round
  • Instagram - Black Circle
  • b-facebook
bottom of page