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Which French figure has the most streets named after them?

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Which French figure has the most streets named after them?
The clue to this sign's location is in the name. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

In French town after French town, you’ll see famous names from history honoured on street signs - but who wins the prize for the biggest number of streets, avenues and boulevards bearing their name?


Some street names are, of course, pretty generic and geographically meaningful - you know what you expect to find on a Rue de l’Église, or in a Place de la Mairie, whichever town you’re visiting. 

Some are more fanciful - Paris' famous Champs-Elysées literally means 'heavenly fields' - there are no fields and it's only heaven if you really like traffic, tourists and expensive chain stores.

But France is also very good at remembering historical figures - mostly its male historical figures because, well, the patriarchy. 

Streets are often renamed to reference recent events - squares in a number of towns were named after Samuel Paty, a teacher murdered in an Islamist terrorist attack in October 2020, while revered singer Johnny Hallyday was remembered with an Esplanade in Paris's 12th arrondissement in 2017, as well as one in Toulouse.

You don't have to be French either - Paris has a Rue David Bowie and an Avenue Franklin D Roosevelt, although plans for a Rue Margaret Thatcher got bogged down in political infighting.

Here - in countdown order - are the 10 most popular street names in France named after famous people (read: men) throughout history.

10 Georges Clémenceau (1,234 streets in France)

Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909 and again from 1917 until 1920, Clémenceau was nicknamed Père la Victoire (Father of Victory) or Le Tigre (The Tiger), after leading France at the end of World War I and into its immediate aftermath.

9 Maréchal Foch (1,255 streets)

Ferdinand Foch was a French general and military theorist who served as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War I. He was not an advocate of the post-war Treaty of Versaille, considering it too lenient on Germany, saying: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.”

It's pronounced 'fosh', so stop sniggering.  


8 Jules Ferry (1,318 streets)

Prime Minister of France from 1880 to 1881 and 1883 to 1885, Ferry is the politician who made primary education free and compulsory in France. He survived an assassination attempt in 1887, but died in March 1893 from complications linked to the wounds.

7 Général Leclerc (1,472 streets)

The Free-French general during World War II, to whom Nazi forces in Paris surrendered in August 1944, Leclerc was posthumously made a Maréchal in 1952. He has nothing to do with the supermarkets, which were founded and are still run by a different Leclerc family. 

6 Léon Gambetta (1,501 street names)

A lawyer - and Prime Minister for a couple of months at the end of 1881 - Gambetta was the politician who proclaimed the French Third Republic in 1870 and played a prominent role in its early government. He died in December 1882, at the age of 44.


5 Jean Moulin (2,215 street names)

A French civil servant remembered today as one of the main heroes of the French Resistance in World War II, who was captured and tortured by the Gestapo in the summer of 1943. He died on July 8th that year.

In 1964 he was inducted into the Panthéon in Paris, France's highest posthumous honour.

Hear the team from The Local talk about the extraordinary life of Jean Moulin in the the Talking France podcast. Download it here or listen on the link below


4 Jean Jaurès (2,370 street names)

A leading Socialist politician in France in the early 20th century, Jaurès is noted for his vain attempts to prevent World War I breaking out - in the face of popular opinion at the time - and for being assassinated outside a Paris café on the eve of conflict. He hails from Castres in south-west France, which is why you're particularly likely to see streets named after him in that area.

3 Victor Hugo (2,555 street names)

One of France’s greatest authors, revered for his novels The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, his works of poetry and his plays, Hugo was also a politician, serving terms as both a deputy and a senator. His remains are interred in the Panthéon.

It's said that all the brothels closed in Paris on the day of his funeral, as a mark of respect to their best customer. That might be exaggerated, but he certainly had an enormous state funeral which thousands attended. 


2 Louis Pasteur (3,354 street names)

The scientist whose research in chemistry led to breakthroughs in the understanding of the cause and prevention of diseases - including vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurisation, the last of which was named after him - which laid down the foundations of hygiene, public health and much modern medicine. 

France's most famous medical research centre - the Institut Pasteur - is also named after him. 

1 Charles de Gaulle (3,903 street names)

Le général is the clear winner of the street names contest. 

The French army officer and statesman who led Free France against Nazi Germany in World War II, chaired the Provisional Government of the French Republic from 1944 to 1946, was Prime Minister from June 1958 to January 1959, then president from January 1959 to his resignation in 1969.

These figures cover only streets, you'll also find numerous parks, leisure centres, public buildings and Metro stations named after the above figures.

There are regional preferences in street names. While De Gaulle is almost ubiquitous across the country, Jaurès and Moulin are more likely to be honoured in the south of the country - being born in Castres and Bezièrs respectively. 

Frédéric Mistral, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is more commonly recognised on street signs in Provence, for example, while Rabelais is recognised particularly in Indre-et-Loire.

France’s historic women, however, are virtually anonymous, representing a meagre two percent of street names in France. In the Indre and Creuse départements, however, a woman is the most commonly recognised historical figure by street name.

Ironically, she’s an author best known by her masculine nom de plume - George Sand. 

If you were expecting to find a lot of Rue Napoleons you might be surprised - but in fact Napoleon Bonaparte, while perhaps the best-known French person ever, is a controversial figure in France with a complicated legacy. 

READ ALSO Why France is divided over Napoleon

All of which is to say, if you're setting your sat-nav for 'Avenue Charles-de-Gaulle' - double check that you're in the right town. 


Comments (1)

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Ken Bulteel 2023/05/11 20:16
Rue de Georges Clemenceau is normally twinned with an adjacent Rue de Jean de Lattre de Tassigny in the Vendee and adjacent departments on account of the fact that the little village of Mouillerons-en-Pareds was the birthplace of both men. Bizarrely for such a small village, both Clemenceau (WW1) and de Lattre (WW2) were the French signatories of the armistices which signalled the end of each world war.

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