This column often is asked how Washington streets got their names. Rarely -- but it happens occasionally -- we're asked why Washington streets didn't get their names. Most frquently it's why there's no J Street. But here comes John W. Middelton of Hyattsville to ask why the letters X, Y and Z are missing from the local street atlas.

According to the best sources Metro Scene has consulted, J Street was omitted because, in the late 18th century when Washington was being laid out, the letters I and J were rendered very similarly.

So, that theory goes, J was omitted to avoid confusion -- although there is now a Jay Street NE, presumably named for the long-dead Chief Justice John Jay. That left us with the street too often called (ugh!) Eye.

The lack of X, Y and Z streets NW is easier to explain.

Washington's city limits (as distinct from the District of Columbia-Maryland line) extended only as far north as Florida Avenue. Within that mapping matrix, W was the highest letter that would fit.

When the street system for the rest of the District was mapped, they didn't bother -- for a reason lost to the ages -- to pick up the missing letters.

Curiously, and not directly answered the same way, there is no X, Y or Z street in the mirror-image area of far Southeast Washington.

George R. Stewart, in "Names on the Land," his 1945 seminal work on American place names, refers to the naming of streets in California's capital, Sacramento.

"Even I Street was allowed," he wrote, "in spite of people's constant tendency to mix it up with 1st Street. (In the end, it became such a nuisance that it was commonly written Eye Street.)"