Street names in Strasbourg: the origins – 1/3
27th décember 2018, by Gustave
The current street names of all cities marked by History take us on a ride through time and Strasbourg is no exception! When, how and why did they appear? Trite as they may seem today, they carry with them 2000 years of history…
From the useful tool to the political instrument
As as primarily practical matter, the street names are given in reference to a civilian or religious building, an institution, a geographical or hydrographical peculiarity, or in reference to a person of importance living in the street. They are passed orally, are not official in any way and evolve along with the constructions and persons living there. Step by step, urban planning develops and the city’s organization becomes a political matter. Only in 1786 does appear in Strasbourg the first official directory of street names. Naming the streets is then a political instrument (sometimes overtly a propaganda one), used to embed in the collective unconscious values or virtuous figures that forge the glory and identity of the nation. The fact that the last «Maréchal Pétain street» in France was renamed only in 2013 is a telling counter-example…
We can add two special features specific to the city’s history regarding Strasbourg: the successive changes of nationality, and accompanying changes of official language, gave rise to corruptions (wrong translations) or simply to improper translations of proper nouns. Moreover, some districts in Strasbourg were spared both by bombings and by great urban planning maneuvers which started in the 18th century in many European cities. Thus, the current street layout is similar for the main part to that of middle age Strasbourg. In some cases, the name appears at the same time as the street and gets to us without changes. In some other, we have to track its evolution. In that case, each change is a convincing testimony of the time it took place in.
After tremendous work, Maurice Moszberger and his team delivered in 2002 (for the first edition) the Dictionnaire historique des Rues de Strasbourg (published by Le Verger). This article is by the way mainly based on that book! It compiles information found in numerous books that have been printed since the 18th century, in handwritten sources available at the Municipal Archives of Strasbourg, in plans and maps from all time (the oldest one usable being the 1548 Morant plan).
To delve in that dictionary is to browse through the entire history of the Great Island and its vicinity, from the origins to this day. Gabriel understood that well and offered us on September 26th 2018 a surprise guided tour on that theme, a theme that transcends all aspects of Strasbourg: jobs that no longer exist, religions, persons, inns and places to live, major events, politics, urban planning, wars…