And finally… Study reveals importance of street names in determining Scottish identity

Street names word cloudPeople living in Scottish areas with street names commemorating Britain, such as “Queen”, “Royal”, “Regent”, or “London” are less likely to define themselves as Scottish only, new research from the University of St Andrews has revealed.

The finding, by Dr Daniel Oto-Peralías, is part of new research focusing on what street names have to tell us about our culture and identity.

Dr Oto-Peralías, of the School of Management at the University of St Andrews, compared the street names of Scottish Westminster parliamentary constituencies with a recent population census asking people to identify their national identity. In areas with a lower number of such union-themed street names, people were more likely to describe themselves as having a “Scottish identity only”.

The study, published in the Journal of Economic Geography, also shows that religion remains a salient topic with the word “church” featuring in the top four of the ranking of most frequent British street names. The research also found that people in areas with a high percentage of religious-related street names, such as “church” or “chapel”, were more likely to identify as Christian.

Dr Oto-Peralías said: “Street names are cultural markers of a town and its history, and can be used as a rich source of information to create socio-cultural indicators at the regional and local level. With the help of data software with text analysis capabilities, it is feasible to analyse hundreds of thousands of street names to extract themes and trends capturing the culture and history of the population.”

Many topics can be studied using street-name data, for instance, gender inequality. The data indicate that the street map is strongly biased toward men, reflecting a history of marginalisation of women in the public sphere.

For the Spanish case, analysed in depth by Dr Oto-Peralías, the percentage of streets named after men, over the total named after men and women, is 83.1%. If streets named after religious figures are removed, the percentage increases to 86.8%, which is a value close to that found in other studies that focus on specific European cities.

Dr Oto-Peralías added: “This large bias naturally generates controversy and indeed there are some social movements fighting for more gender equality in street names. This is an important issue because street names have strong symbolic power and can contribute to the perpetuation of those social and cultural values contained in them.”

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