Fascinating Addressing Systems Around the World

We take a look at the unconventional addressing systems used around the world. From Japan to Nigeria, we look at some of the cultural and historical factors to the diversity of house naming and addresses around the world.

To most of us, the naming of streets provides a practical purpose. I'd even go as far as to say it is something we almost take for granted. Not only just to know what road you are on, but also to help you recognise a street you're trying to find.

In practical terms, imagine being in the bustling centre of Notting Hill in London. You're trying to get to Portobello Road. You glance at the map on your phone, before glancing up to the street sign above you to see that you're standing on Ladbroke Grove. Using your phone you can easily conclude that you're just a couple of short streets away from your desired destination. With each street named and easy to navigate, you have no problem getting from A to B. However, not everywhere has the simple street naming protocols we're used to. In fact, some places have no street names at all...

So today, we're having a look at how other places name their streets and understand why it is different, and potentially better than the systems we use. 

aerial map of mannheim city centre, showcasing the cities unusual road address system

Mannheim, Germany

First off, let's head to Germany. More specifically, Mannheim city centre is Baden-Wuttemberg district in South-West Germany. Mannheim is a well-to-do city which boasts great cultural and artistic significance, known for its deep-lying traditions and great musical influences.

When it comes to the city centre, tourists are often caught by surprise. The streets are not named in a traditional way but instead have a letter and a number system, similar to the squares in a game of chess. For example, E7 or C6. As confusing as this may seem for, well, the rest of the world, it actually follows a sensible structure. The city centre is split into a gridded street network called 'quadrants', with each street within a quadrant given an identification number. The letter refers to the quadrant it is in. For example, D4 refers to the street numbered '4' within the quadrant 'D'. This unique structure has resulted in the city being called Quadratestadt, which translates to 'Square City'. 

address system in Japan


It's not just a city in Germany that have different ideas on how to use an address system, sometimes countries have completely unrecognisable systems to us Westerners. Japan is a fine example of that.

Unlike many places, Japanese streets typically do not have official names. Instead, they use a type of hierarchical system that considers many elements of identification such as the town or City it is in, which district and region it falls under and what building blocks it is in all to help identification of a particular place. To further complicate matters, although a hierarchical system is often used, the way addresses are written and recorded varies from one region of Japan to another. For example, more remote areas often rely on nearby landmarks and other notable places of interest to help navigate to exact locations.

Downing street what3words


Some countries have taken on the use of modern technology to help with their street identification system. Namely, the three-word addressing system appropriately named what3words. 

There are currently eight counties that use the three-word address system - Nigeria, Mongolia, KiribatiTongaSint-Maarten, Ivory Coast, the Solomon Islands and Djibouti. This system has split the world up into 3-metre squares, each given a three-word identification phrase starting with a three-dash prefix (///). An example is ///highlighters.customer.hedgehog which would take you to a road in the small town of Ribah, Nigeria. One of the biggest benefits for these countries is that everyone now has some form of address. Before what3words was adopted, addresses and house names were only commonly used in large built-up towns and cities, leaving smaller and remote communities even more isolated. This system has been fully adopted and integrated into everyday life and appears to have made everyday logistics much easier as a result for these counties, so much so that the system is commonly seen and used across much of the world.

Without a doubt, an efficient house naming and addressing system helps local services, businesses, locals and visitors greater ease navigating through their day saving time and money in the long term.

If you're like us and prefer the conventional house and address system or what3words, you can help anyone easily find your home with our house signs or what3words address signs.