London taxi driver Tina Kiddell estimates that something like twice as many streets in London are named after men than women. She describes herself as “a woman in a man's world” and has an in-depth knowledge of the city, after driving people around it for 24 years. When not behind the wheel, she spends much of her spare time poring over a copy of The London Encyclopaedia, a comprehensive reference book of more than 1,000 pages. “Every single road has got a story. For example, Gower Street was named in 1790 after a lady named Lady Gertrude Leveson-Gower, who married the fourth Duke of Bedford,” she says. “Cavendish Square - named after Henrietta Cavendish, a daughter of the Duke of Newcastle, Charlotte Street - named after Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, Gunnersbury Park/Lane/Avenue (W3) - named after Gunylde, a niece of King Canute, Minories (EC3) - named after the Minoresses, the nuns of St Clare, who had an abbey there, Savile Row (W1) - named after Dorothy Savile, the third Earl of Burlington's wife, and you have Bedford Square at the end of Gower Street - so there's your little story about a family marrying together and having the two names in one area where they had houses and owned land.” Kiddell is proud of her city's history and the stories behind it and is not bothered by London's somewhat male-dominated street map. “When the streets were named, women were subservient to men. Whether that was right or wrong at that time, that was the way it was," she says. “You can't change history.”
But Julia Long from the London Feminist Network says the women in Rome are absolutely right to question the status quo.
“I would love to see a similar project taken up in London. It would play a big part in ensuring that women feel recognised and valued in our city,” she says. Long is concerned about the impact this has on the self-esteem of women and girls. She also thinks it gives men an inflated sense of entitlement and self-worth. This is a very personal opinion that I doubt has much if any validity. No one really takes notice of the gender of street names and why they should be the cause of a sense of entitlement and self-worth in men or self-esteem in women and girls is quite frankly beyond me. “Oh, look, that street is named after a man isn’t that great?” “Oh, look, that street is named after a woman, hiss-boo, it lessens my sense of entitlement and worth.” What a load of old codswallop or, rather, bee in the bonnet time.
But back to Rome where "Street names are a very important form of recognition,” Ercolini says They are a way of immortalizing a person, and of holding in high esteem their achievements. The message conveyed by the naming of such a disproportionate number of streets after men is that men are of more value and importance than women," she argues. And so on and so on. So name a few more streets after women what difference will it make? Not many will take any notice.
Naturally this article was open to comments of which here are a few.
I live on a housing estate with roads named after common native bird species. As if there wasn't already enough important stuff going on the world I am now worried that amphibians, reptiles, platyhelminths and members of the dioptera are underrepresented on our street maps.
Street names are not sexist but male dominated and there is a huge difference. In a corner of the town where I live streets are named after poets. Would I rather live in Plath Drive than Hughes Avenue? Yes, but not because Sylvia Plath was a woman and Ted Hughes was a man, but because she was clearly the superior poet.
I have done my bit to rectify this situation as I have persuaded my wife to change her name by Deed Poll to A259.
To resolve this is quite simple, prefix half the street names with Mrs. or Ms or is that another argument?
What a travesty of male chauvinism! What we need is a quota to correct this, all new roads to be named after women! We need a new road name gender equality Quango to draw up a list of names and allocate these to new roads until half are named after women. There is also a lack of roads named after transgender persons, so we need a quota for them too, also ethnic minorities, different religions etc.
Like I say, every street tells a story.