Something historical, a kind of tree,
For a touch of class, add an extra "e."
Townes of Gloucester, Largo Centre West,
Oakpointe Estates -- these meet the test.
For town house names, apartments, too.
Nothing less than idyllic will do.
Meadow, meade, manor, mill, glen,
All created with the stroke of a pen.
At Silverwood, don't look for a tree.
There's a parking space where it used to be.
From Maryland to Virginia, it's the developer's decision,
That spawns Brookside Forest from a subdivision.
For every tree felled, stream diverted and wild animal displaced by development in the Washington suburbs, a home builder is probably erecting a monument of brick and wood in its place -- with the desirable name to match.
Take Silverwood, for example. As its name suggests, it is located in Silver Spring. But what about the second half of the title? Are there lots of trees there? "There were before we took 'em down," chuckled Gideon Fishman, a vice president of The Artery Organization.
And what about nearby Greencastle Lakes, a neighborhood of single-family homes built on the site of a former golf course? "I'd say it's more of a pond," said resident Steve Westen. "They don't have it to the point where you can walk around it or sit by it or anything."
The Naming Game. Developers swear by it, home owners swear at it. It's an unmistakable part of life in an area where new town houses, apartment complexes and neighborhoods seem to spring up overnight and developers and advertising executives compete to create the classiest, most alluring name.
Along the highways and back roads of suburban Washington are names including every kind of foliage, a little local history, anything topographical (particularly bodies of water), and something British, leading to subdivisions called Kings Valley Manor, Stoney Creek Farm, Glenmont Americana and The Crest of Wickford.
Developers and advertising executives are the masterminds behind such memorable creations as Falkland Chase, Woodside Mews, The Vistas and Nethergate, which oddly enough suggests a development akin to the gates of hell.
"A computer would probably come up with something a lot more creative," said Robert Feldman, whose advertising agency helps name commercial and residential projects for 14 development companies. "After colors and logos, names are the hardest things. They are so subjective."
But make no mistake about it, finding the right moniker for a 200-house subdivision or a 1,000-unit town house development is a task taken quite seriously. While price and location undoubtedly figure more prominently in a prospective house buyer's decision, developers said an outstanding name may well be the distinguishing factor in a crowded market.
Their choices, they say, reflect the aspirations, values and life styles of Washington area residents, or at least what home builders believe are the aspirations, values and life styles of Washington area residents.
"Washington is a conservative, traditional area, and people aren't looking for a lot of excitement in their place of residence. They just want something that doesn't sound offensive or that reflects a certain aura about it," Feldman said.
"Customers are definitely influenced" by the names, said Connie Patterson, a vice president with the residential management division of Shannon and Luchs. "Oftentimes, the name reflects the life style they are looking for. 'Club,' for instance, brings up an idea of exclusivity, and people like that."
Most developers say that assigning a name is usally a process of elimination.
Their first inspiration is an area's historical significance.
"We'll look at who owned the land, or if it's the site of a Civil War battlefield, the name of the general who led the charge," said Roy Cupersmith, a senior account executive with the Bomstein-Gura Agency. "But in most cases you find that the historical significance is awfully insignificant."
Cupersmith recalled one town house project he tried to name for Coscan, a Washington area developer.
After spending hours of research in a local library, he discovered that the proposed development would be across the street from the site of Maryland's first Baptist Church. He suggested the name "Chapel View."
"They didn't end up using it," he said. "That type of situation is really reaching."
Artery's Fishman said his company named its new town house development in Fredricksburg "Ballantraye" because it cropped up in a historical context. Its meaning?
"We don't know, and frankly we don't care," he said. "We just liked the name, you know, it sort of rolls off the tongue."
After history, the next most obvious source is an area's geographic or geological assets, developers say.
That, and the fact that developers are by their own account shameless copycats, explains why in Montgomery County alone there are more than 25 developments with names that begin in "Glen" -- defined as a narrow valley -- and enough "oaks," as in "White Oak" and "Oak Hill," to fill a large forest.
If a site doesn't have any positive features of its own to exploit, which Cupersmith says is true in more than half the cases, a developer is likely to go with something "that sounds pleasant and hasn't been used before."
The Vistas, for instance, is the name he devised for Coscan's new luxury condominiums at Laurel Lakes because the buildings have lots of windows.
"I didn't say that the view is pretty, just that you have a lot of views," he said. "It all comes down to the category of things that have been used a million times and those that have only been used half a million times."
Cupersmith and others said that naming a development is a lot like naming a baby.
At any given time, certain names may be more popular than others. Names that used to be popular but are currently out of vogue include anything ending in "woods," "estates," "plaza," "manor," "meadow," and "villa."
Still useful are "creek," "crossing" and "village," but they are beginning to reach the saturation point.
The current rage, according to developers, is anything having to do with horses.
This equestrian motif has given rise to a slew of projects with names such as Foxchase, Hunt Country and Derbyshire. The American fascination with England makes anything slightly Anglophile an equally good bet.
Because finding a name that is acceptable to all the people involved in a project is a long and at times frustrating process, several companies have given up trying to be original and adopted themes that are as applicable in Manassas as they would be in Miami. The Trammel-Crow Co., for instance, uses the word "chase" -- a British term for a small park-like area -- in the names of all of its apartment complexes.
After years of relying on an advertising firm to come up with a list of suggestions, only to find all of them unacceptable for one reason or another, the president of the Oxford Development Corp., a national developer with projects around Washington, handed down a decree: All of the company's projects titles would be taken from a standard list of 15 names, reflecting five life styles: Water, Country, Wooded, Hunt Club and Resort.
Examples of the water treatment are Runaway Bay in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Landing in Annapolis.
"It was expensive to keep reinventing the wheel each time with all the different egos saying 'I don't like it,' or 'My wife doesn't like it,' " said Jeannie Hendricks, vice president of marketing for Oxford.
"The name is important, but it isn't as important as the quality of the product," Cupersmith said.
"The analogy is, you don't name your kid Poindexter because people will make fun of him, it's hard to spell and it's outmoded. But if Poindexter is a good kid, no one is really going to care if he's named Poindexter."