In this response from the May 2013 issue, Dr. Know addresses the changing spellings of street names.
When I was growing up, there was a Burney Lane in Mt. Washington. Today that same street has signs that say Birney Lane. Was it renamed in honor of the actor (David)? The actress (Meredith Baxter)? Or did some now-forgotten City Father by the name of Burney fall out of favor? —Puzzled
Dear Puzzled:No puzzle here. Birney and Burney are just a couple of variants of the same Scottish surname. All Scottish surnames, most of which in the original dialects have something to do with “damp,” were adopted before Scots reluctantly learned to spell, something they found much more difficult and annoying than smiting each other with incredibly heavy but reasonably sharp metal sticks, their great pleasure in life along with sheep stealing. To this day it is considered among diasporic Scots effete and southern (which is to say “English”) to get hung up on spelling. Apparently the City of Cincinnati has wisely adopted a policy of ethnic appeasement for the lane, rotating the various spellings of Birney through a cycle. Look for Byrney sometime in the next decade.
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