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Which French figure has the most streets named after them?

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?

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)

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 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 after those involved in major incidents – 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.

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 One. 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’. 

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.

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 latest episode of 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 where 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 Pantheon.

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. 

Member comments

  1. 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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Armenian Resistance fighter joins France’s Pantheon greats

An Armenian poet and communist fighter in World War II will enter the Pantheon mausoleum and join an elite group of France's revered historical figures, French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday.

Armenian Resistance fighter joins France's Pantheon greats

Known as being “pantheonised”, the rare tribute is reserved for those who have played an important role in the country’s history.

Missak Manouchian, who arrived in France in 1925 as a stateless refugee after fleeing violence, later joined the communist Resistance during World War II.

He led a small group of foreign Resistance fighters against the Nazi occupation, carrying out attacks on German forces and acts of sabotage in Nazi-occupied France in 1943.

Macron said Manouchian “embodies the universal values” of France and “carries a part of our greatness”.

In 1944, the group, which included a number of Jews, was put out of action when 23 of its members were rounded up and sentenced to death by a German military court.

Manouchian was shot by the Nazis on February 21, 1944.

The collaborationist Vichy regime later tried to discredit the group and defuse the anger over the executions in an infamous red poster depicting the dead fighters as terrorists.

Macron paid tribute to Manouchian’s “bravery” and “quiet heroism”, as well as to other foreign Resistance fighters.

Other major French figures to be reburied in the Pantheon include Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Marie Curie.

READ ALSO: France honours women’s rights icon Simone Veil with coveted Pantheon burial

By entering the Pantheon, Manouchian will become both the first foreign and communist Resistance fighter to be awarded the honour.

Manouchian will enter the Pantheon alongside his wife Melinee, who survived him by 45 years and is buried alongside him at the Ivry-sur-Seine cemetery.

‘Quiet heroism’

On Sunday, Macron also decorated Robert Birenbaum — part of the foreign Resistance fighter group — at the Mont Valerien site where Manouchian and hundreds of other “resistants” were executed by the Nazis.

Former French resistance fighter Robert Birenbaum (R) receives France’s Legion of Honour medal from French President Emmanuel Macron during a ceremony marking the 83rd anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle’s World War II resistance call of June 18, 1940, at the Mont-Valerien memorial in Suresnes, outside Paris, on June 18, 2023. (Photo by MOHAMMED BADRA / POOL / AFP)

The memorial coincided with the anniversary of the dramatic appeal of June 18, 1940, when Charles de Gaulle made a historic call to defy the Nazi occupiers after making his escape from a defeated France.

The call — widely seen as the start of the country’s resistance movement — is marked every year at Mont Valerien by French leaders.

On Sunday, Macron and assembled members of the government including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, listened to the Appeal of June 18 read by French actor Philippe Torreton, before holding a period of reflection at the site.

The pantheonisation of Manouchian had been long called for by the French left, particularly the Communist Party.

The party’s national secretary in France, Fabien Roussel, said on Twitter that Manouchian symbolised a “certain idea of France: a political nation, made up of citizens of all origins, united by universal values”.

Since 2017, Macron has pantheonised three others including the French-American dancer and rights activist Josephine Baker, who became the first black woman to be honoured at the site.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: France honours Josephine Baker at the Pantheon

Baker was also just the fifth woman to be honoured with a place in the secular temple to the heroes of the French Republic, which sits on a hill in the Left Bank of Paris.

The move followed years of campaigning by her family and admirers for her place in French history to be recognised.

The tribute on Sunday also marks part of a long series of memorials leading up to the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II, which are set to continue next year with events to commemorate the liberation of Paris.