Saturday, May 16, 2015

What Bureaucrats Do: Making Street Names Unnecessarily Longer

If we can ever be bothered to think about them, street names are usually a mystery
writes Stephen Clarke,
except maybe in American cities where it’s pretty obvious why they’ve called a road “First Avenue”. In Paris, curious passers-by and residents are often helped by little explanations on the blue enamel plaque, telling you who exactly gave their name to the thoroughfare.

 … I used to live in an excellent street in Paris – not only was it well-placed, in the Marais, it was also short and easy to spell. I pity the poor people who live in streets like the rue des Cinq Martyrs de la Révolution du 25 Mai 1848 (which doesn’t exist, but could in this country that loves to commemorate important dates in its street names). My address was in the rue Dupuis, so filling in forms was a pleasure. Recently though, I walked along it and noticed that they’ve changed the name to explain who Monsieur Dupuis was – it’s now called rue Charles-François Dupuis. He was an 18th-century scientist and politician, apparently. Perhaps the city didn’t want us to confuse him with some other Dupuis who did less noteworthy things – Jean-Paul Dupuis the serial-killing shoe repairer, maybe, who also doesn’t exist but could do in some 19th century novel.

I hope the powers-that-be won’t apply this full-name principle to all Paris’s streets, otherwise lots of residents could be in for a painful form-filling time. There’s a boulevard Beaumarchais, for example, named after the author of The Marriage of Figaro, and his full name is Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Even worse, the neat rue de Sully in the 4th is named after Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully whose other titles were Prince souverain d’Henrichemont et de Boisbelle Baron, Marquis de Rosny, Marquis de Nogent-le-Rotrou, Comte de Muret et de Villebon, Vicomte de Meau. Try to get that on a postcard.
Stephen Clarke’s book Paris Revealed is an insider’s guide to his home city, and includes a section on street-naming policies, and the history of Paris’s trademark blue enamel plaques.