Mapping the Spatial Distribution of the
Origin of Street Names
in Biloxi, Mississippi
By Marc Gillespie
Posted November 15, 2017
Naming a place gives it importance and permanence. Place names, more specifically, street names, are given to important people. Some streets are named for important members of a family or society. In some cases the names are of head of households or important political figures of the day. According to Ling Zhang "The rich diversity of ethnic groups is reflected in its toponyms (place names)"(2012). This project will investigate the toponyms in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Biloxi was first settled in 1699 when Pierre Le Moyne Siuer D'Iberville arrived to claim the land for France. Biloxi was named by the French for the Indians that were living in the area -- this is the only aboriginal name found in Biloxi. It remained a part of France until 1763, then a part of England from 1763 to 1780, Spain from 1780 to 1811 ("Timeline", 2017).
Figure 1. Mississippi Timeline.
This paper explores the etymology and spatial distribution of toponyms (street names) in Biloxi. A vector file of the road network will be analyzed for the origin of names. A density analysis will be performed to determine if clustering of the toponyms exists.
As streets were created and mapped, a cultural landscape was developed as an official road network (Yeoh, 1996). French street names such as Lameuse Street, Lafayette Street, Moran Alley, and Reynoir Street are prime examples. English names such as Howard Avenue, Crawford Street, Dogwood, and Edgewater. Spanish toponyms include Cortez, Lopez, Desoto, and Santa Rosa. Many of the European cultures are present in the road list, Irish, Italian, Scottish, Swiss, Romanian, and Greek can be found.
This project aims to determine if clustering exists in the cultural landscape of street names in Biloxi, Mississippi. A geodatabase, MDEM 2007 Coastal Region Vector Data, will be used to extract road data for the city of Biloxi (MDEM, 2007). The road data will be augmented to include the etymology of road names. This data will be displayed and examined for clustering using the "point density" tool in ARCMAP 10.
A basemap will be created using Standard County Data shapefiles available from MARIS (Standard County Data, 2016). Shapefiles for both Harrison County and Jackson County will be used to show Biloxi contextually with its neighbors.
Using ARCMAP the standard county data layer was defined to include only the Biloxi extent. A geoprocessing tool was used to clip the road layer to include only the roads inside the Biloxi extent.
The road data is in a dynamic segmentation format, meaning there is a row in the data table for each segment of the road. A segment is the length of road from one intersection to the next. Pass Road, for instance, may contain 100 segments if it intersects 100 roads. The "dissolve" tool in ARCMAP was used to merge the segments into one feature for each street.
All numerical street names, e.g. Highway 90 and I-10, were deleted. This resulted in 799 street names. A column was added to the data labeled "Origin". This column was used to indicate the culture of origin for the street name - English, French, German, etc.
The Biloxi Historical Society website proved an excellent resource for the origin of names ("Families" and "Streets and Roads"). In some cases a name had it's origin in multiple European languages. In these instances the most modern etymology was used.
A map was generated depicting the street names for the top 3 origins. The top 3 origins represent 88% of the total.
To better visualize the spatial distribution and to perform statistical analysis of the data, the roads were converted to points. This conversion was performed using the "feature to points" tool.
A map was generated depicting the streets as points for the top 3 origins.
A separate layer was created for each of the origins.
The "point density" tool was used to create raster map of the clustering for each origin.
The most numerous street name etymology found was English, with 487 instances occurring, representing 61% of the total. French names were the second most common with 174 street names constituting 22% of the total. German names were the third most common, 40 names or 5% of the total. The 3 most prevalent origins were mapped as this represents 88% of all toponyms.
Map 1. Top 3 Name origins.
Map 2. Top 3 Name origins depicted as points.
The clusters of English toponyms correlates strongly with density of the road network. At 61% of the total street names we would expect the density of English names to vary directly with the density of the road network. Therefore, the hinterlands, and undeveloped areas of the city have a low density of these names.
Map 3. Density of English street names.
The clustering of French toponyms is clearly visible in Map 4. The cluster in the lower right corner is downtown Biloxi and is where we would expect high density. Two high density clusters were found on the north side of Biloxi's peninsula. Two more hot spots were found on the north side of the bay.
Map 4. Density of French street names.
The German toponyms are clustered in downtown Biloxi and strongly correlate with the French toponyms. The hot spots on the peninsula match those of the French toponym map -- only to a lesser degree.
Map 5. Density of German street names.
In the 1830's the residents of New Orleans were the first tourists of Biloxi (Husley, 1998). Their culture, both French and German, left an indelible mark on the topogeny. What began as tourism grew into owning land and summer homes, and ultimately a permanent home. Biloxi was a summer reprieve for many families from New Orleans. New Orleanians would seek refuge from "the seasonal onslaughts of yellow fever" and the heat of the city in the cool breezes of Biloxi (Husley, 1998). In addition to French residents, New Orleans was home to a German immigrant population known as the German Coast (Kalina, 2015). Rodenburg Avenue was named after John Henry Rodenburg, a German Immigrant from New Orleans ("Streets and roads"). Keller Avenue was also named after a New Orleanian of German descent ("Streets and roads").
The predominant practice of assigning toponyms in Biloxi was naming for city fathers and early pioneering individuals. Iberville Drive after the French Governor Sieur d'Iberville -- who first settled the area in 1699. Caillavet Street after Raymond Caillavet, a street commissioner in 1883 ("Streets and roads").
Figure 2. Detail of plat map of Biloxi Peninsula from 1822. Source: Danforth, 2014.
Biloxi began its modern life as a French Colony and the clustering of French toponyms in downtown Biloxi exemplifies the lasting effect of a dominant culture. The French arpent land divisions are visible in the road network of downtown Biloxi. The long narrow plats run north-south from the Mississippi Sound to the back bay. The plat map of 1822 demonstrates how the land lots were shaped. Over 300 years later, their impact is still visible on the landscape.
The diffusion of New Orleanians to Biloxi had a greater impact on the landscape than that of the original French Colonial occupation from 1699 to 1763. The 1822 plat map shows how little Biloxi had developed during colonial times. The French toponyms didn't occur until after the colonial period.
The cluster of French toponyms in downtown Biloxi represent a 19th century influence -- whereas the clusters west and north of downtown are a more recent development. Here it appears that a romantic notion of superior class and culture of New Orleans has been assigned to neighborhoods and street names by 21st century property developers. Driving in these areas one only finds homes built in the last few decades. While they are of a coastal creole style architecture (Kalina, 2015) they are not historic structures.
The predominant cultural impact on the topogeny of Biloxi has been that of the English. The majority, 61%, of the street names are of English descent. This isn't surprising given that of the 318 years Biloxi has existed, 223 years were as an English Colony or Anglo-American. The density map demonstrates how ubiquitous English toponyms are in the landscape of Biloxi street names. As the density map shows, the only areas without English toponyms are rural areas without roads.
The street directory for Biloxi contains a rich and diverse story of the life of the city. These toponyms are sign posts of the past. They represent a cultural identity. They preserve the importance of not only the person the street was named, but also of those imparting the names. By naming the places and including them on the map they are made official and permanent.
Danforth, M.E. (2014). Archaeological and Bioarchaeological Investigations of the French Colonial Cemetery at the Moran Site (22HR511), Harrison County, Mississippi. Technical Report. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309282974_Archaeological_and_Bioarchaeological_Investigations_of_the_French_Colonial_Cemetery_at_the_Moran_Site_22HR511_Harrison_County_Mississippi
"Families." Biloxi Historical Society. 2017. http://biloxihistoricalsociety.org/biloxi-families. Accessed on 6 Nov. 2017.
Higgs, R. (2005). "Not Merely Perfidious but Ungrateful" The U.S. Takeover of West Florida. Independent Review, 10(2), 303-310. Retrieved from http://lynx.lib.usm.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=18159001&site=ehost-live
Husley, V. (1998). Biloxi: 300 Years. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Donning Company Publishers.
Kalina, Zachary Evan, "A Settlement Geography of Three Ports on the Northern Gulf of Mexico: The Role of Rivers, Railroads, and Hurricanes: 1830-1930" (2015). Master's Theses. Paper 88. https://aquila.usm.edu/masters_theses/88/
MDEM 2007 Coastal Region Vector Data. Mississippi Automated Resource Information System. Retrieved from http://www.maris.state.ms.us/HTM/DownloadData/2007CoastalMDEMVector.html
Standard County Data 2016. Mississippi Automated Resource Information System. Retrieved from http://www.maris.state.ms.us/HTM/DownloadData/County.html
"Streets and Roads." Biloxi Historical Society. 2017. http://biloxihistoricalsociety.org/streets-and-roads. Accessed on 5 Nov. 2017.
"Timeline." Biloxi Historical Society. 2017. http://biloxihistoricalsociety.org/time-line Accessed on 5 Nov. 2017
Yeoh, B. (1996). Street-Naming and Nation-Building: Toponymic Inscriptions of Nationhood in Singapore. Area, 28(3), 298-307. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.lynx.lib.usm.edu/stable/20003708
Zhang, Ling, "GIS-based spatial analysis of place names in Yunnan, China" (2012). LSU Master's Theses. 1717.