Place-naming: designing city narratives

by Fiona Ferbrache

Place names0001Gliding up the escalator of Station Jean Jaurès, the lively activity of Place (du Président Thomas) Wilson comes into view in the centre of Toulouse, SW France.  I’m introducing a friend to the city and explaining the significance of the political figures whose names have been given to these places.  It is the same in any city, the intimate relationship between people and territory is marked by place names (Shoval 2013).

Our stroll through the city takes us down rue Clément-Ader, onto the metro at station Jean-Mermoz and we take coffee on Avenue Louis-Bréguet: “as in the Bréguet Atlantic aircraft?” asks my friend.  Indeed, for Toulouse, centre of the European aerospace industry, has numerous streets and locations commemorating important people in the history of aeronautics: a subtle and symbolic reminder of the city’s particular historical narrative tied in with aviation.

Place-naming and territorial signification has been explored from an academic perspective (e.g. Yeoh 1996, Nash 1999), most recently by Shoval (2013) whose paper extends existing knowledge by focusing on the practice of street-naming specifically to promote places for tourism development.  Grounding his arguments in examples from the Old City of Acre, Israel, Shoval reveals how naming from the mid-1960s was partially aimed as helping tourists to navigate streets and alleys around the city.  He refers to this as evidence of urban landscape as “an expression of tourism consumption” (p.13).  Shoval also recounts the political significance of street-naming in Acre; how tensions played out ‘from above’ and ‘from below’, and as different expressions of heritage meaning.  Place-naming is rarely, if ever, a straightforward process.

Leaving Toulouse, we drive close to the airport via Avenue Didier Daurat (a pioneer of French aviation).  The Airbus Beluga is coming into land overhead – a symbol of Toulouse’s contemporary aeronautical activities.  Like Acre, this city is a residential, tourist and symbolic space, and it would be fun to adopt Shoval’s perspective to further explore the significance of these place names among current tourists and residents.

books_icon Shoval, N. 2013 Street-naming, tourism development and cultural conflict: the case of the Old City of Acre/Akko/Akka  DOI: 10.1111/tran.12003

books_icon Nash, C. 1999 Irish Placenames: post-colonial locations. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24:457-480

 books_iconYeoh, B. 1996 Street-naming and nation building: toponymic inscriptions of nationhood in Singapore. Area 28:298-307

One thought on “Place-naming: designing city narratives

  1. Pingback: Historical Geographies: creating geography in 18th century France | Geography Directions

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