House Names and Numbers
A name adds character to any home, and if the home has a history then the name can go a long way to help track down the identities of past owners and other historical tidbits. In this piece we will look at the use of house names in Queensland, the meaning and origin of common names and the best approach to finding names that have been lost over time.
House names in Queensland had their hayday from the late 1800s thorugh to the mid 1900s when they were replaced by the more logical and consistent use of house numbers. Numbering schemes had existed in Brisbane from the late 1800s or earlier but they were inconsistent and confusing, partially owing to the uncontrolled subdivision of properties which came to an end with legislation enacted in 1885.
A more organised adoption of property numbering started around 1905, initially covering CBD streets and main thoroughfares of inner suburbs. Suburban streets were progressively numbered through to the early 1940s. Anecdotal information suggests that other Queensland towns underwent a conversion in the same timeframe.
Council-issued house number signs from the 1920s and 30s, consisting of oval aluminium plates with white numbering on a black background. These sings are also available as reproductions. Click to enlarge.
Before numbering systems came into play most houses were referred to by their names or by the names of their owners. In southern states where large, terrace-style developments were commonplace, builders would generally name the dwellings before they were marketed for sale. The 1800s building boom created a shortage of names as the standard range became over-used, and names were often applied without any relevance to the geography, history or attributes of the buildings or the area. Aboriginal words in particular were in vogue and were used without context across states and cities far outside their native range.
In Queensland, most of the predominantly detached suburban houses were built by owner-occupiers or private landlords and this seems to have given rise to a more meaningful vocabulary. Looking at sources from the early 1900s we can identify a number of common categories with names ranging from quirky and unique to very conventional:
Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish place names and derivations, such as “Aberfeldy”, “Oakham”, “Hereford”, “Athenry”, “Anwyl”, “Twyford”, “Euston”, “Sefton”, “Kinloch” and “Glenelg” were very commonplace. Late 19th and early 20th century sources abound with Scottish and Celtic-sounding property names, reflecting a societal fascination with all things Scottish and also the influx of Northern British immigrants to Queensland during the first decades of the free settlement. I have researched many houses where the name refers to the British birthplace of the builder or his ancestors.
English evocative words and combinations typical for the Victorian era, such as “Sunnyside”, “Mornington”, “The Gables” “Lilyvale”, “The Palms”, “Rosehill”, “Fern Villa”, “The Priory”, “Hollybank” and “Arcadia”. Many contemporary suburbs were named in a similar vein.
Geographical names such as “Hillcrest”, “River View”, “Heath”, “The Oaks” and “The Moorings”, often applied with no apparent relevance to the local scenery, flora or topography.
Exotic names derived from Polynesian, Maori and a variety of South-East Asian dictionaries, for example “Rosmah Kita”, “Kia Ora”, “Nunyati”, “Te Arawa” “Fiji” and “Daraji”.
French, Spanish and Italian names such as “Bonvenu”, “Riviera”, “Chez-Nous”, “Noureuil”, “Santa Monica”, “Verona”, “Bona Vista”, “Le Jardin” and “Grande Vue”.
The Great War references to famous European battle fields such as “Pozieres”, “Peronne”, “Lourdes” and “Florennes”, and battleships such as “Vindex”.
Affectionate descriptive names reflecting the owner’s perception of the house, for example “The Hut”, “The Nook” and “Cosy Cot”.
Names referring to the owner or a family member, often ending in “ville”, for example “Adaville”, “Alexville” and “Lesville”. Also names such as “Noel Cottage”, “Carlow Villa” and “Cecilton”.
Australian and Queensland place names – comprising an endless catalogue of towns, localities and pastoral runs.“Beerwah”, “Mornington”, “Maroondah”, “Kerang”, “Clovelly”, “Cooramin”, “Beulah”, “Karrala”, “Kurajong”, “Athol”, “Coot-tha”, “Couthalla” and “Maryvale”, many of which were originally derived from British place names or aboriginal vocabularies.
Whimsical names such as the very common “Emoh Ruo” (“Our Home” reversed), “Astonvilla” (which I assume was occupied by a West Midlands soccer fan) and “Dorgla Hazwill” (possibly an anagram of the owner's names).
Some of the baptisms were blatant acts of cultural appropriation but the words rolled of the tunge, evoked pleasant imagery and served to separate the identities of houses on a particular street, which was the whole point. Many of the names would have been entirely appropriate and reflective of the owner’s personal histories. I've even come across a few Scandinavian-derived house names such as “Nordica”, “Nystad” and “Valhalla” - reminders of the relatively scarce immigration to Queensland from that part of the world.
Quite often a series similar names occur in a particular street and this was probably the result of family connections or the spread of a popular meme through a neighbourhood over a period of time. And of course, the appellations of the grand and upper-class homes tended to the pretentious and were less likely to include “Cosy Nook”.
If you are searching for the lost name of an old house you should be aware of the tendency of names to be transplanted, replaced and modified over time. I’ve come across multiple examples where the owner of a house moved to a new suburb and simply transposed the old name to the new home. Names were often changed, wholesale or subtly, to suit new owners.
To get your research underway I would recommend the following as primary sources of information:
1 – Survyor Plans. If you live in Brisbane and don’t have access to information on past owners of the house, your first source should be the Surveyor Plans from the early decades of the 20th century, which are available from the BCC archives as outlined here. Not all house names were captured in the plans but many were, as shown in the title picture. Other councils may have similar sources.
2 – Trove Newspaper Archives. If you have completed the search for historical title deeds, you may be able to find newspaper articles linking the owner to the name of the house. For middle- and upper class dwellings this is typically in the form of social notices on parties, weddings and funerals or advertisements as shown below. Notes on searching Trove can be found here.
House names mentioned in newspaper notices. Click to enlarge.
3 – Electoral Rolls, which you can access through a genealogical service or the State library. The name of the house is often listed with the occupant's name and profession, but in the absence of street numbering you need to know the occupant’s name before you commence your search. Examples of electoral roll extracts are shown below.
Extracs from Electoral Rolls, listing the occupants of the dwellings "Craven Cottage" and "Bellavista". Click to enlarge.
Unfortunately, historical post office directories of the 20th century generally don’t list house names.
And if the historical records draw a blank, just go ahead and come up with your own name but for heavens sake try to make it relevant to the house, the location or your personal story. History is a great source of ideas, particularly if you’ve researched the builder and early occupants of the house.
"Villa of Peace"