Eleanor Lentz remembers what it was like 12 years ago when she moved to Baritone Court in Fairfax County.

"People would drive in and say 'Gee, Baritone Court. Are you singers?' "

No, but like many other Fairfax County residents, she had settled in a subdivision where the street names follow a theme, and the theme in her area is music -- complete with Trombone and Tuba courts.

There are neighborhoods where the streets are named for animals -- Bear Court, Spaniel Road, Moose Court. Or, wines -- Beaujolais Court, Sauterne Court and Moselle Drive.

Blanche Lorraine Burton lives in a mobile home park where the streets are named for birds. She's on Woodpecker Way.

"We do have a lot of birds here," she said.

Any woodpeckers?

"Well, it happens to be that here at my place we have a lot of crows."

One neighborhood, Barrister's Place, has Decree Lane, Verdict Drive and Witness Court. A trailer park near Washington Dulles International Airport has Trans World Avenue, Swissair Place and Braniff Circle.

The subdivision theme phenomenon is not new, nor is it limited to Fairfax County, but it is especially noticeable there, where it sometimes seems there is a backhoe on every corner, a concrete truck in every lot.

New subdivisions pop up almost overnight. In fiscal 1984, the number of building permits for town houses, single-family homes and condominiums jumped 30 percent, to 10,969.

Usually, officials get few complaints about the names on street signs that go up.

That's because the names are scrutinized for appropriateness before they even get near a signpost.

In Fairfax, for example, Elizabeth (Bunny) Blair is responsible for approving names for new streets.

She remembers rejecting a few tangled Indian names, but says her biggest problem is duplication.

Right now, the Civil War is in, and the developers want to name their streets after generals. "But I just can't approve a lot of famous people any more," Blair said. "Whenever I do a community, I take out a yellow pad and write about 100 names on it and kind of let it ferment for a few days." -- John D. Ringle

Like-sounding names that might confuse firefighters and police -- such as "Shadow" and "Chateau" -- don't slip by Blair, either.

Also, she says, no street names in Fairfax can be more than 23 characters, because that's all the computer can handle.

While there are few formal rules in most areas, every place is a little different. In the District, someone has to be dead for at least two years before the City Council approves a street bearing that name.

"When somebody first dies, you can get a lot of emotion and sentimentality, but that may not last into history," explained Anne Snodgrass, staff director for the District's Committee on Public Works.

"Two years later, no one might remember who they were or why anybody would want to name something for them."

In Montgomery County, the procedure is similar to the way it works in Fairfax. "We also discourage unusual spellings," said Frederick Flaherty, a planning aide in the department of development review of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Harold Wolkind, a 73-year-old retired builder, built almost 2,000 homes in Arlington, Fairfax County and the District of Columbia. And he had the most fun, he said, naming streets in his McLean Hamlet subdivision. Everything there is Shakespearean, including Romeo Court and Elsinore Avenue.

A theme can give a neighborhood "a little bit of class," Wolkind said.

Just off the Capital Beltway in the heart of Fairfax County is the Camelot subdivision, with a battlement entrance of white brick and streets that include King Arthur Road and Round Table Court.

It was all part of the early 1960s Camelot obsession, said developer William Minchew. "The Kennedys were in the White House," Minchew said. "It was the whole Camelot thing."

In fact, anything having to do with Great Britain is popular in Fairfax County. In the London Towne West subdivision, there is a Lady Madonna Court, a Gatwick Square and a Paddington Lane.

Any number of people involved in housing development can become part of the naming process.

"Usually the idea comes from some marketing guy like me," said Lonnie King, vice president of sales for the Pulte Home Corp., which developed London Towne.

"Whenever I do a community, I take out a yellow pad and write about 100 names on it and kind of let it ferment for a few days," said developer John D. Ringle.

Take, for example, his "The Glenverdant" subdivision.

"I was walking through it one day, when the mists were rising, and I thought about Brigadoon." Building on the Scottish theme, using the yellow pad, he came to The Glenverdant.

Does the image conjured up by a street or subdivision's name help to sell its houses?

"Perhaps the names we've had have added to the fact that we can sell out a 250-acre subdivision in a week and a half," said Ringle.

Sometimes, though, well-liked names are risky. The names at Ringle's "The Patterns" subdivision are so popular -- Moon Patterns Terrace, for example -- that signs are frequently swiped.

In one Montgomery County neighborhood, the streets are named for spices -- Turmeric Court, Red Pepper Court and Allspice Drive -- and though the developer wanted Sesame Street, Flaherty wouldn't give it to him.

"And do you know why? Because the street sign would get torn down every week. I mean, we have a Dallas Drive, and . . . when the Redskins play the Cowboys, that sign is going to come down."

Artists, heroes, aunts and uncles -- almost every subject is fodder for a developer looking for names for a community. ". . . We have a Dallas Drive, and . . . when the Redskins play the Cowboys, that sign is going to come down." -- Frederick Flaherty

In Manassas, there's an apartment complex where the streets are named for musicians -- Cass Place, for the late Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas; Croce Court, for the late singer Jim Croce; Mangione Court, for trumpeter Chuck Mangione.

Sometimes the themes are more abstract.

At the Discovery subdivision in Frederick County, there are Inspiration Court, a Dream Place and a Successful Way.

Trying to find good names that aren't already taken isn't always easy.

So desperate are some developers that Blair usually keeps an index card of pretty names at her desk, names gathered from visits to other states, other countries.

Of all the names she has approved, she has a favorite, one that reminds her of cool, deep woods, she said, and of lilacs.

She reached for a map, and ran her finger along the page, then flipped it. "Here it is," she said. "It's Shangri-La."

She repeated the name again. "Shangri-La."

Paradise Lane, in the subdivision of Shangri-La.