This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue.
Not “forms of address”, e.g., ‘My Lord’, ‘Your Most Excellent Scholarhood’, et cetera, but “My office is at …”.
Most of us are used to addresses of the form “123 Any Street”, with a fairly common variation of “Jedestraße 123”. However, there are other ways of defining where your office—or house, or store, or whatever—is. If, in your worldbuilding, you use one of those other ways, you have another hook to hang some potential trouble for your PCs… .
All of the systems below are used in the real world. I even tell you where I found it to be used.
In Nicaragua, addresses aren’t numbered. Streets don’t even have to be named. Instead, the address is given by reference from a well-known landmark location: “Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Noche, 3 cuadras al Sud, 1 cuadra 10 varas al Este” (In English: “Church of Our Lady of the Evening, three blocks south, one block ten varas east” [one vara is about 83cm]).
Pretty much anything can be the starting landmark—churches, parks, important municipal buildings, gas stations… even a mile (well, kilometer) mark along a highway. Sometimes, a landmark building gets torn down. The addresses relative to that landmark only change with the addition of “Donde Fue” at the beginning, meaning “Where was”, or where the landmark used to be: “Donde fue Igl. N. S. de la Noche, 3 c. Sud, 1 c. 10 v. Este”.
Sometimes, it’s not possible to provide this sort of direction all the way to the actual location; in such cases, one provides direction to get as close as possible, and then adds “Direccion Conocida” (“Address is known”), meaning ask around and the locals will point you to where you need to go. (https://vianica.com/nicaragua/practical-info/14-addresses.html)
- If you are standing at the southeast corner of the block where the Temple is located in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, you are standing at the zero/zero point for the entire county. Addresses in the county are all pure coordinates measured from that point: “1355 N 700 W” is seven blocks west of that corner, and between thirteen and fourteen blocks north. The unit of measurement is both unspecified and irrelevant; one block is an increment of 100. (http://www.exploreutah.com/GettingAround/Navigating_Utah_Streets.shtml)
- In India, buildings aren’t generally numbered, just named, or are within a named development. Sometimes, this form of address is seen in the UK and Ireland, as well: “Cholmondeley House, Whimmeshire High Street”. The address also may be on a ‘dependent street’, where the actual street of location isn’t unique, and you need to specify the main street that it’s dependent from: “Cholmondeley House, Thamesford Lane, Whimmeshire High Street”. Developments considered notable in the United States may also mimic this model; examples in New York City include Penn Plaza, World Trade Center (prior to 11 Sep 2001, the ‘twin towers’ were 1 World Trade Center and 2 World Trade Center), World Financial Center, and United Nations Plaza—but New York is hardly unique in doing this.
- There are examples in England of opposite sides of the same street having different names, with independent numbering on each side. Also in England (and in some areas of the USA), if two buildings have adjacent numbers, but additional buildings are later constructed between them, the new buildings may have letters appended to their numbers (e.g., 75A, 75B), or fractional numbers (e.g., 75½) may be issued. There are a few examples in England where the number is 0, and negative numbers –1 and –2 have been issued.
- At one time, large residential buildings in major cities in the USA might have been issued multiple address numbers, and the address you gave your correspondents depended on where in the building your apartment was located. As an example, at one time I lived on the twelfth floor (U.S. count; the floor at ground level is 1) of a building that carried three addresses - 910, 920, and 930 Theriot Avenue. My cousin lived on the twenty-second floor of the same building. Mail to my family was addressed to 920 Theriot Avenue; to hers, 930 Theriot Avenue. Buildings may still have multiple address numbers, but such will generally be ‘legacy’ addresses; now, with U.S. post codes (“ZIP codes”) having an extra four digits (“ZIP+4”), a single address may have multiple “+4s” instead.
- In most of Queens County, New York City, building numbers have hyphens in them (e.g., 34-15). In these addresses, the portion before the hyphen indicates the previous street or avenue (these areas tend to repeat numbers on the thoroughfares, e.g., 93 Ave, 93 Rd, 93 Pl; “Streets” and “Avenues” tend to be ‘through’ routes, with all others being relatively short, and possibly discontinuous), and the portion after restarts after each such street/avenue. (https://www.brownstoner.com/queens/real-estate-categories/how-to-make-sense-of-the-street-addresses-and-grid-in-queens/); (https://www.queenshometeam.com/blog/read-addresses-queens-new-york/)
- In Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, USA, there are no numbered addresses; the only purpose for numbering would have been postal or package delivery, both of which are handled via a central post office. Within the village, “addresses” are given as “Third house on the east side of Torres St., green trim, driftwood fence”, or perhaps by the name on a signboard in front of the house (and it’s considered bad luck to change the names on such signs): “Hansel” or “Sea Urchin”, for example. (https://www.carmelcalifornia.com/fun-facts-about-carmel.htm)
- In most of the “Western” world, when you are looking for an address, the street is important and gets named; the blocks are just the spaces between the streets. In Japan, the block is important, and gets a designation; streets are the gaps between blocks, and don’t generally get names (some important ones do). An address in Japan would be by municipality, then neighborhood, then a subarea name and number, block number, and building number; building numbers within a block are assigned in the order that the building were constructed. “Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Yaesu 1-5-3”. When giving directions, landmarks and (named) cross streets might be given. (https://sivers.org/jadr); (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_addressing_system)
- In central Mannheim, Germany (inside the Luisenring), there are no street names; an address in this area is a block identifier consisting of a letter and a number (e.g., Q3), followed by a building number. Building numbers within a block are assigned from the southern corner nearest the central street (Breitestraße), counterclockwise in blocks with letters A-K or clockwise in blocks with letters L-U. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannheim#Block_Numbering_and_Computer_Mapping)
- On the German island of Baltrum, buildings have numbers, but streets do not have names. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltrum)
- Postal codes in the Netherlands are sufficiently fine-grained that one may provide the recipient name, the postcode, and the building number, and expect correct delivery. This won’t help your average player-character to find the location, however. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postal_codes_in_the_Netherlands); (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Address#Netherlands)
- When addressing international mail, one may use either English or the local language (and writing system), but if the local language is used, the name of the destination country must appear in the address in English, not just the Latin alphabet—that is, KOREA, not CHOSUN; CHINA, not ZHONGGUO, RUSSIA, not ROSSIYA, GREECE, not HELLAS. The English restriction holds even if the destination country also uses the Latin alphabet: FINLAND, not SUOMI, IRELAND, not EIRE.