What’s in a name?   

Street names can speak volumes about the culture, mores, and attitudes of the population of a country.

Forty percent of Malta’s streets, which number over 7,500, are named after someone, but only 12% of those 3,000 are named for women.  A whole host of saints, men of the cloth, artists of all sorts, doctors, and politicians dominate street names, but only 360 of them are women.   

The gender balance is stark, the only solace for women being that the Virgin Mary has the highest number of streets named after a woman. A distant second comes St Catherine.  On the other hand, where saints are concerned   ̶   which account for 2,100 streets   ̶   the gender balance is not in favour of men, such that even the Apostle Paul, St Joseph, and St John place low in the league.  Jesus himself comes in at 10th in the holy league.

Street names can speak volumes about the culture, mores, and attitudes of the population of a country.  The task of writing about them fell to Dr Yanika Borg   ̶   a 34-year-old data analytics expert based in the UK.  She spent several months piecing together information gathered from the University of Malta library, Times of Malta, and from the internet to uncover the patterns behind those plaque names.

In the study titled ‘What’s in a name?’, Borg highlights how a few women managed to get some attention. They include soprano Hilda Tabone, the Russian princess and ballerina Nathalie Poutiatin Tabone, and four politicians   ̶   Agatha Barbara, Evelyn Bonaci, Maggie Moran, and Mabel Strickland.  Some other women    ̶   Ċetta Mintoff and Moyra Mintoff   ̶   feature in a handful of streets, but only by virtue of being related to a male politician.

Anybody interested in reading the study can do so here.

Photos: Matthew Mirabelli/Times of Malta

Our streets are named by local councils according to guidelines published by the Street Naming Committee, which has decreed that names must be easy on the eye and no longer than 40 characters. Streets cannot be named after a living personality, and names cannot be changed unless in exceptional circumstances. The Prime Minister gets to have the final say   ̶   another confirmation, if one was needed, that the accumulated powers of a Prime Minister in Malta are mind-boggling.

Sometimes I wonder how, over the years, we have managed to name over 4,500 streets for humdrum objects but seem to have difficulty naming streets for historical events, persons, cultural traits, and neighbourhood characteristics. 

Main photo: Sandro Mangion

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