Melbourne was officially gazetted on 29 March 1837 as the name of the settlement on the north bank of the Yarra River, named by Governor Bourke after the British Whig politician and prime minister. Garryowen's Chronicles of early Melbourne (1888) quotes from a supposed journal of surveyor Robert Hoddle, suggesting that Bourke instructed Hoddle as to the names of the streets. Such a journal has never been subsequently located, and the precise origin of some names remains a matter of speculation. La Trobe Street was part of an 1838 grid extension, and the little streets were named in 1839. The following table records the varying opinions on the origins of Melbourne's street names.
|Bourke Street||Sir Richard Bourke, governor of New South Wales 1831-37|
|Collins Street||Lieutenant-Governor David Collins, commander of the 1803 Sorrento settlement|
|Elizabeth Street||Wife of Sir Richard Bourke or Queen Elizabeth I|
|Flinders Street||Captain Matthew Flinders, navigator|
|King Street||Captain Philip Gidley King, governor of New South Wales 1802-06, or King William IV, reigning monarch|
|Queen Street||Queen Adelaide, King William IV's consort|
|Russell Street||Lord John Russell, British Home Secretary and leader of the House of Commons in Melbourne's administration|
|Spencer Street||Lord Spencer, former leader of the Whig party in the House of Commons|
|Spring Street||Thomas Spring-Rice, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Melbourne's second administration, or wattle trees in bloom during Bourke's visit|
|Stephen Street||Sir James Stephen, Colonial Under-Secretary 1836-47|
|Swanston Street||Captain Charles Swanston, leading member of the Port Phillip Association|
|William Street||King William IV, reigning monarch|
|Lonsdale Street||Captain William Lonsdale, first Police Magistrate at Port Phillip, 1836-40|
|La Trobe Street||Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe, superintendent of Port Phillip District 1839-51, first lieutenant-governor of the Colony of Victoria 1851-54|
The slow process of standardising name plates and their absence at many city locations caused great inconvenience for those travelling at night and for shopkeepers, emergency services and deliveries. Some streets had local as well as official titles. In 1889 there were at least three streets off or near Collins Street called Collins Place.
Just as Collins Street gave status to an address, so too other names had negative overtones. Residents petitioned local councils to change names as some streets gained notoriety as the sites of criminal activity, prostitution or murders, or for their perceived effect on business and property values. Because of its ill repute as a brothel district, Stephen Street became Exhibition Street for the 1880 International Exhibition. In recognition of John Batman's role in the foundation of Melbourne, Yarra Bank Road became Batman Avenue in 1913, while during World War II some German street names were considered offensive.
Melbourne's most common street names include Park, Station, Railway, Victoria, George and Albert, and many are named after local councillors, residents or politicians. In the 1920s, the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission called for reform and uniformity of street names and street numbering, though duplications, variations in spelling and arbitrary changes at municipal boundaries continued to characterise street nomenclature.
Street names remain a municipal government responsibility, though many are chosen by landowners or developers. Groupings of associated names are commonly found among the approximately 15 000 street names in the metropolitan area. British poets, English counties and military themes are popular in dozens of suburbs, while other collections include birds (Carrum Downs), gemstones (Essendon), maritime themes (Aspendale), Richmond Football Club players (Hoppers Crossing), Heidelberg School artists (Ivanhoe), Indian cities (Mitcham) and colonial lawyers and judges (Kew).