What’s the Source of Dahomey?

Dahomey Avenue.jpgThis may be a question for Susan Hvistendahl. Or perhaps Hayes Scriven knows a guy or gal with a story. At any rate, where did the name “Dahomey” come from?

What is generally referred to around town as “Highway 3” is, in a deep-mapping world, known as “Dahomey Avenue”. I first discovered this fact while reviewing the March 10th, 1997 “Summary of Findings for Design of the Highway #3 Center Section” (prepared by the Ad Hoc Highway #3 Design Committee) as I helped to prepare the March 10th, 2005 “Final Report of the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Safe Crossing of Highway 3“.

Both the 1997 group and the 2005 group recommended that one of the potentially powerful yet possible steps would be to “reclaim the state highway as a city street” (mentally, if not physically). The second group tossed around a new name such as “John North Boulevard”. Somebody then told me that the road already had a name, “Dahomey Avenue”.

The name “Dahomey” was quite surprising to me. It conjured up visions of places far from Northfield.

I had first heard it in reference to a kingdom on the West Coast of Africa from where many of the people taken for slavery in the United States had originated. I later heard it as a important source of the rhythmic complexity of music in Cuba and New Orleans that would serve as essential roots of what we now know as Jazz. Finally, and perhaps primarily related to the rhythmically complex drumming, the name emerged again in relationship to Vodun, a religion most often associated with Haiti, which was relatively strong in the more Catholic regions of the New World, such as Cuba and New Orleans.

So, with all due respect to the rhythm section of Occasional Jazz (which is playing Friday evening at The Cow), I’m wondering how the name Dahomey ended up in a land of Northern European people, Nordic string music, and Lutheranism. Susan, Hayes, somebody…can you help me out on this one?


  1. I agree with the spirit of using city street names over highway numbers, but it seems that, right now, Dahomey Avenue is not a city-recognized name (at least not on any maps, like this one).

    Dahomey Avenue, as I understand it, is the name used in out of city limits Dakota County, just as Faribault Blvd is the name used in Rice County. You’ll note that businesses located within city limits on Hwy 3 — Target or Cub, for example — have a mailing address of Highway 3 North/South.

    Though I don’t particularly like “John North Boulevard,” I do like the idea of the city assigning it a proper name.

    Out of curiosity, Ross, why does the safe crossing report only recommend renaming the central section of Hwy 3 John North Blvd? What’s been done to Hwy 3 from 5th Street to St. Olaf Ave is beautiful (for a four-lane highway, at least), but the city ought to acknowledge that there’s a long, awful stretch of road south of there that needs to be improved. The speed limits are too high, there are no bike lanes, and the sidewalks are inconsistent. It might not be Historic Downtown Northfield™, but it’s Northfield. If we were to rename the street, I think it shows a pointless favoritism to only cover the downtown area.

    February 19, 2009
  2. No idea where Dahomey came from. There’s no file at the historical society that I could find, no Dahomey name in available phone books. It is interesting that there is a google reference to “In Dahomey: A Negro Musical Comedy.” Not a likely source for Northfield’s street name…

    February 19, 2009
  3. Holly Cairns said:

    Well, Alfred T. Andreas missed it on his plat map seen here:


    That’s a drag and drop map, so click on it and then pull the drag and drop box over northfield, and then use the “+” and “-” keys.

    Dahomey was also a kingdom in Africa (looks like it was a part of what is now Benin, a sliver of a country on the SW coast of Africa. French: Dahome

    February 19, 2009
  4. Paul Zorn said:

    I’ve wondered, too, about how on earth (literally) “Dahomey” was chosen.

    Perhaps it’s obvious, but I didn’t see anybody mention that “Dahomey” is part of an alphabetical sequence of (roughly) north-south roads, including “Alta”, “Biscayne”, “Canada”, “Dahomey”, “Eveleth”, “Foliage”, “Guam”, “Holyoke”, etc. So my best guess is that somebody’s 6-year-old kid chose the name from the back of some old dictionary.

    February 19, 2009
  5. Ross Currier said:

    Sean –

    We were asked to offer input on the only section of the road not yet redone.

    We suggested naming it (or, we later realized, renaming it) because although every group ever assembled to make recommendations for a safer crossing recommended a traffic light at 3rd and 3 (or Dahomey) such an investment would cost $180,000 and new street signs would probably only be a few hundred dollars.

    Frankly, I think everyone in the group would have been happy to have the name changed all the way from Waterford to Dundas…as long as we could keep our total signage costs down.

    Oh no Susan, now my hopes are pinned on Hayes!!!

    To the kingdom in Africa, a deep root of Jazz, and possible source of Vodun, we can add an Off-Broadway Musical and the kid of some long-ago real estate developer.

    Hmmm, how far back do Maggie’s clippings go?

    Thanks to you all,


    February 19, 2009
  6. CJ Betcher said:

    How about a president’s name? so many other streets in Northfield are named after presidents (Example: Jefferson Pkwy), which is why I am suggesting “Obama Expressway” for the road

    March 10, 2009

Leave a Reply