Name of the Rose Cottage

Quaint names sell houses, so forget `16 The High Street', says Rosalind Russell
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Where would you rather live: 4 Chapel Lane, or Old Church Cottage? 32 High Street, or Dovecote Barn? Yes, the names have it, as the Royal Mail in Staithes, near Whitby, found this week.

The Mail wanted villagers to adopt house numbers instead of names for their quaint coastal cottages. Claiming that relief postmen might have problems finding addresses in the maze of old streets, officials prepared to wipe out generations of local history. But they met with outraged opposition, not the least from the occupants of Rose of England Cottage, Blue Jacket House and Star of Hope Cottage.

Not only have many of the village houses been named after old fishing boats, and so maintain a rich local heritage, in some cases they contribute to the village's major source of income: tourism. Staithes is popular with holiday cottage renters who might be less easily charmed into parting with their money if the names were not evocatively nautical. People aren't just buying a holiday; they're buying a dream. Though some holiday cottage owners over-egg the pudding, with pages of Owl Cottage, Nutkin Barn, Cuckoo's Nest ...

Estate agents confirm public sensitivity to the impact of a house name. The word "cottage" has a positive cash value, and swapping a name for a number could knock value off a property. Vendors have even been advised by agents to give their house a name prior to putting it on the market if the address is an off-putting 256 London Road, which gives the impression of non-stop traffic. And the owners of Sons And Lovers Cottage in Eastwood, Nottingham, shrewdly realised how much more their end of terrace is worth, trading as it does on being the boyhood home of DH Lawrence.

Of all the houses on sale at any given time, an estimated 200 are called Rose Cottage. Although they come in all shapes and sizes, it has become the generic term for an idyllic way of life. One such three-bedroom stone detached cottage, in Rodborough in the Cotswolds, is typical. More than 150 years old, with roses rambling over the gardens, it's for sale at pounds 99,500 through Murrays in Stroud.

While industrial heritage is acceptable in house names - Weavers Cottage, Mill House - inspiration is more commonly found in the garden. Jasmine Cottage in Brownshill, Gloucestershire, took its name from its gardens rather than its past. The village has small cottages that were once occupied by mill workers, when there was a thriving textile industry. It's for sale through Butler Sherborn for pounds 124,000.

Some names are purely practical, like the Clock House, part of a conversion of a 17th-century coach house and stable block in the grounds of Chippenham Hall, near Bury St Edmunds. There is a maintenance charge for the properties, but the buyer of the three-bedroom Clock House will get a pounds 4 a week reduction in respect of clock-winding duties, say the agents, James Bedford. They are also selling the four-bedroom Pheasant Cottage in Horringer. If the buyers are hopeless at topiary - pheasants feature in the front hedge - they may have to change the name. Box Cottage, perhaps.

Some meanings have been lost in time. Cat's Nest, for instance, in Broad Oak, near Rye in Sussex. The owners have no idea how their Grade II listed two-bedroom thatched cottage came to have its odd but delightful name, but it certainly adds to its charm. It's for sale at pounds 110,000 through Phillips & Stubbs.

According to the Halifax Building Society, one in 15 houses has a name, although the trend is falling off, no doubt assisted by the Royal Mail. Only one out of every 19 new homes is named. Inspiration comes mostly from flowers, or the view from the window, although, sadly, the most popular name is The Bungalow.

Developers have been quick to read the public mood. Designs of their new houses are grandly called The Highgrove, The Kensington or The Sandringham in an appeal to the aspirational home buyer. Developments in urban areas often sport an unlikely soubriquet such as Badger's Holt, Green Acres or The Willows.

Wimpey admits it got its fingers burned when it decided to honour local boy made good Nick Parkes, creator of Wallace and Gromit, by naming two streets in a Bristol development after him. "The locals liked the idea, but the authorities thought it was silly," says a spokeswoman. "So we backed down." "Homes provide meaning and identity in our lives," says Barrie Gunter, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield. "They can signify status, structure, our social relationships. They trigger many of the memories central to our formative past."

A house name says more about the occupants than the car they drive or the labels in their clothes. The Browns in The B's Hive feel secure. The toffs in Toad Hall like to think they can take a joke. Nobody wants to be just a number. And though nobody admits to being a snob, we all know the difference between the folk in Minzapint and those in The Old Rectory.

The house names of Britain, suggests Leslie Dunkling, author of The Guinness Book of Names, include a fine repository of folk humour. His research has thrown up the coy, the eccentric, the romantic, the sentimental, and an astonishing number of bad jokes. He also finds that coastal houses are more likely to have a name than those inland.

Combination names - putting the family names together - generally don't work. Least of all, notes Dunkling, for Renee and Albert, who didn't know what Renal meant.

But as Royal Mail officials busily set about making life easier for themselves, they may care to consider Leslie Dunkling's story of a house which had an Italian place name.

"It was where the son of the family had been killed during the war. When you see tears in someone's eyes ... you become aware of a name's private meaning in a way that no amount of abstract thinking could achieve."

From `The Guinness Book of Names'

Ca d'Oro: (after a Venetian palace) a sign on the gate says: "Beware of the Doges."

Mews Cottage: the owner's name is Whiskers.

Copper Leaves: owner, a retired policeman.

Sea View: in London, 40 miles from the sea.

SJ 619714: the house's National Grid reference

Halifax top 10 names

The Bungalow; The Cottage; Rose Cottage; The Lodge; Hillcrest; Woodlands; The Coach House; The Gables; School House; The Willows.