Wednesday, September 6, 2017

History in the Streets - Comparison Between Italian and American Street Names



Walking through a typical Italian city you can't help but get a lesson in Italian history: it's all encoded in street names. It wouldn't be uncommon to receive directions such as "Follow Viale Vittorio Emanuele II, turn left on Giuseppe Verdi and follow it until you come to Via Cesare Battisti." In the course of your journey you would be honoring, respectively, Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy in the late 1800s, Giuseppe Verdi, the famous Italian opera composer of the second half of the 1800s, and Cesare Battisti, the Italian patriot and socialist politician of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It turns out that street names in Italy fall into a couple of broad categories dealing with important people and events in Italian history.  By contrast, street names in the United States tend to be based on numbers (e.g., First, Second) or names of trees (e.g., Oak, Elm). 

In this post, we'll compare and contrast street names between the US and Italy. Specifically, we'll talk about the top names used for Italian streets. Then, we'll use Bergamo as a specific Italian city example and list its typical street names. Finally, we'll close out by talking about American street names.

Italian Street Names


The data discussed here is from Laboratorio internazionale di onomastica (LIOn), but unfortunately doesn't seem to be easily accessible anymore. (Long live data on the internet!) So, we have to rely on others who analyzed the data, in particular these two references:



These two references (circa 2013) give the following top 20 Italian street names:

  1. Roma 
  2. Giuseppe Garibaldi 
  3. Guglielmo Marconi 
  4. Giuseppe Mazzini 
  5. Dante Alighieri 
  6. Camillo Benso conte di Cavour 
  7. Giacomo Matteotti 
  8. Giuseppe Verdi 
  9. IV Novembre 
  10. Castello 
  11. Papa Giovanni XXIII 
  12. Cesare Battisti 
  13. Alessandro Manzoni 
  14. Aldo Moro 
  15. Antonio Gramsci 
  16. Chiesa 
  17. Vittorio Veneto 
  18. Piave 
  19. Alcide de Gasperi 
  20. Umberto I

Some data about this list of street names:
  • The list of top street names came from over 8,100 Italian cities. 
  • Reference 1 states that streets named for John Fitzgerald Kennedy comes in at number 66. 
  • The names of important Risorgimento (Italian unification) / Irredentism and political figures provide 50% of the top 20 names. 
  • A full 75% of the top 20 are the names of people, specifically men. 
  • Reference 2 reports that names of women make up 2.4 % of the total list of names and the first woman to appear is "Santa Maria" at 57th place. 
  • The three "place" street names in the list (Roma, castello, chiesa) are all you would ever need in a town: how to get to Rome for business, how to get to church for absolution, and how to get to your nearby castle for protection. And rest assured, these streets take you there, if not quickly, at least eventually. (Not sure, but I'm guessing there isn't a via Roma in Rome.) 
  • Score one for science! Guglielmo Marconi comes in high on the list, only behind Garibaldi, but before all others. 
  • Other, older top street name lists are from 2011: Il Risorgimento scende in strada and 2005: I dieci nomi delle vie più diffusi in Italia. Their data is slightly different.

Categorizing the top 20 names gives us a handy list for a possible crash-course in Italian history.

Risorgimento / Irredentism: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 - 1882), Giuseppe Mazzini (1805 - 1872), Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour (1810 - 1861), Cesare Battisti (1875 - 1916)

Statesman: Giacomo Matteotti (1885 - 1924), Aldo Moro (1916 - 1978), Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1931) , Alcide di Gasperi (1881 - 1954), Umberto I (1855 - 1900)

Artist / Scientist: Guglielmo Marconi (1874 - 1937), Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321), Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901), Alessandro Manzoni (1785 - 1873)

Place: Rome, Castello, Chiesa

WWI: IV Novembre (Armistice of Villa Giusti ending war between Italy and Austria, 1918), Piave (river and site of Italian victory over Austria in 1918), Vittorio Veneto (battle 1918)

Religion: Papa Giovanni XIII - pope (1958 - 1963)

I remember my first few times in Italy and the feeling of heaviness the names conveyed. I didn't know Battisti from Gramsci. After a year, they seemed less opque as I've began to slowly imbibe Italian history from friends and reading. Heavy, yes, but interesting I must say. Compare the top Italian street names with the bland, functional names of the top American street names (listed in ful below) like First, Second, Third, and so on. The streets of Italy are rich history lessons. Italians live their history daily.

The categories we give above, in particular, Risorgimento, Statesman, and Artist/Scientist, are our inventions, used for convenience. People or events in a category don't always neatly fit. Take for example Antonio Gramsci. Yes, in general, he was a statesman, but he was also a journalist, a linguist, and a philosopher - to name just a few other hats he wore. In the Risorgimento cateogry, conte di Cavor's was a businessman and politician as well as a key protagonist of the Risorgimento.

And sadly, there are not shortage of tragic stories in these street names, including Matteotti - murdered during a kidnap attempt by Fascist secret police, Moro - kidnapped and murdered, Gramsci - imprisoned the by Fascist government, which led to a serious decline in health and his death, and Umberto I - assassinated.

Bergamo Street Names


The following list of streets in Bergamo is not an official list. The names were not rigorously selected nor are they selected based on popularity or relevancy. Rather, they are simply streets in Bergamo Città Alta and Città Bassa that we've noted. Still, the list is interesting for two reasons. First, it confirms a similar pattern seen in the list of street names across Italy, that is, names honoring the Risorgimento, national statesman, and artists. Second, many Bergamo street names honor a local prominent citizens of the past, so that in these cases, there is a local history lesson. For example, streets in Bergamo honoring "locals" like Locatelli, Camozzi, or Colleoni are not found in the top 20 street names for all of Italy.

Bergamo street names honoring prominent local people and places:

Statesmen 
  • Antonio Locatelli (1895 - 1936) 
  • Gabriele Camozzi (1823 - 1869) 
  • Francesco Cucchi (1834 - 1913) 
  • Bartolomeo Colleoni (1395 - 1475) 
  • Giacomo Costantino Beltrami (1779 - 1855) - patriot/explorer 
  • More info about personaggi illustri or promiment citizens of Bergamo. 
Artists / Scientists 
  • Girolamo Tiraboschi (1731 - 1794) - historian 
  • Mario Lupo (1720 - 1789) - historian 
  • Torquato Tasso (1544 - 1595) - poet 
  • Giacomo Quarenghi (1744 - 1817) - architect 
  • Andrea Fantoni (1659 - 1734) - sculptor 
  • Giacomo Manzù (1908 - 1991) - sculptor 
  • Evaristo Baschenis (1617 - 1677) - painter 
  • Gianandrea Gavazzeni (1909 - 1996) - composer 
  • Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848) - composer 
  • Simone Mayr (1763 - 1845) - composer 
  • Antonio Stoppani (1824 - 1891) - scientist 
  • Clara Maffei (1814 - 1886) - a woman of letters and important backer of the Risorgimiento 
Places 
  • Viale delle Mura - runs along the top of the Venetian walls or "mura" of Città Alta, the wall of which are now officially a UNESCO site. 
  • Via alla Rocca - takes you to the fortification called La Rocca
  • Via della Fara - runs alongside the green space in Città Alta called the Fara. 
Religion 
  • Papa Giovanni XXIII (1881 - 1963) - beloved pope from the Bergamo area; Bergamo's main hospital is named after him as well as many other buildings and organizations in Bergamo and around Italy. 
  • Angelo Mai (1782 - 1854) - religious scholar; today the beautiful Biblioteca Angelo Mai carries his name as well. 
  • Street Saints: Via Sant'Alessandro, Via S. Giovanni, Via S. Giacomo, Via San Salvatore, Via San Lorenzo, Via San Pancrazio, Largo di Porta S. Alessandro, Vicolo Sant'Andrea

American Street Names


In 1993, the U.S. Census released a tally of common street names (a scan someone made of the data; the original data is hard to find). In 2014, a new set of data was released. Both the 1993 and 2014 dat are discussed in two references we'll use here:


From Reference 1, we have the following top 20 street names (1993 data):

  1. Second, 2nd 
  2. Third, 3rd 
  3. First, 1st 
  4. Fourth, 4th 
  5. Park 
  6. Fifth, 5th 
  7. Main 
  8. Sixth, 6th 
  9. Oak 
  10. Seventh, 7th 
  11. Pine 
  12. Maple 
  13. Cedar 
  14. Eighth, 8th 
  15. Elm 
  16. View 
  17. Washington 
  18. Ninth, 9th 
  19. Lake 
  20. Hill

Categorizing the names as we did for Italian street names leads to:

Numbers: Second/2nd, Third/3rd, First/1st, Fourth/4th, Fifth/5th, Sixth/6th, Seventh/7th, Eight/8th, Ninth/9th

Trees: Oak, Pine, Maple, Cedar, Elm

Places: Park, Main, View, Lake, Hill

Statesmen: George Washington

Almost 50% (9/20) of the top 20 across all of America are numbered streets. Just one surname, Washington, appears in the top 20. If you look at the top 50 names, the numbers start to become less common, the tree and place names stay about the same, and more surnames start to creep in: Lincoln (#26), Jackson (#33), Johnson (#40), Jefferson (#42), and Wilson (#44).

For me, the numbers, trees, and place names used for American streets are a far cry from weighty Italian street names. Why that's the case I'm not sure and won't hazard any guesses.

Finally, Reference 2 for American street names gives information about variations in the top 10 names by state. While there are variations between states, the top 10 lists are consistent in their use of numbers, trees, and places. What variations there are speak a little to history and surroundings. For example, Arizona has "Apache" and "Mesquite" while Hawaii has "Aloha" and "Lehua". Connecticut has neither, or at least in the top 10.

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