Every visitor to an Italian town has probably come across a Via or Corso Garibaldi, a Piazza Dante and a Via XXV Aprile. He or she may also have noticed streets named after the physical characteristics of the area – thus Catania has a Via Etnea and Palermoa Via Fiume – or after local nobles or heroes. But how many of us have stopped to wonder how many streets in Italy are named after women? The answer, according to Rome geography teacher Maria Pia Ercolini, is less than 5% and now, via a facebook group with 2,388 members [at the time of writing] and a website, she is aiming to chart the current situation and change this sad statistic.
Different countries have different street-naming habits and in pre-unificationItaly, the website explains, most streets were named after the jobs or professions of the people who lived in them, geographical features or saints. It is true that after the Risorgimento streets were named for the movement’s heroes, but as most of the known heroes were men, “masculine” street names still predominated and the tendency continued when streets began to be named after the partisans of World War 11.
Where streets were named after women other than saints, it was often the mothers or wives of famous men who were honoured. No one is saying that these largely unknown women did not deserve recognition, as after all, their single-minded menfolk cannot have been easy to live with and who knows what Mrs-Archimedes-of-Siracusa [if there was one] was doing when her naked husband ran down the street shouting “Eureka”? If she was mopping up the bathroom floor, she was no less heroic for that. Anita Garibaldi, of course, was a heroine in her own right and many towns have honoured her in the naming of a street or piazza but what of our other unsung sisters?
Famous women of Sicilian ancestry such as honorary Ragusan Susan Sarandon, the Catania singer Carmen Consoli and the writer Dacia Maraini [whose mother was a Sicilian princess] have one disadvantage [though the ladies themselves might not regard it as such] when it comes to street names – they are still living. Under Italian law, a person has to have been deceased for at least ten years before a street can be named after him or her and only rare exceptions are made. This ruling does guard against the possibility of a later shaming of the community that bestowed the honour but it is, to say the least, restrictive, especially in a country which has seen enormous changes in the status of women over the past half century.
In today’s Italy 46 percent of women are employed yet the female population outnumbers males in most cities. InPalermo, which has a population of 311,121 males to 344,754 females, only 239 of the city’s 6,874 streets or piazze are named after women, most of whom were saints. In Catania , which has a male population of 138, 041 and a female one of 155,417, just 75 of 2,172 streets or piazze are named after women. Of these, 35 have the names of saints or madonne [five being named for the city’s patron Sant’Agata] and just one artist and two writers are represented. Modica [RG] , with a population of 26,671 males and 28,525 females, is doing rather well proportionally with 26 geographical locations being named after women, including a whole district, the Sorda, named after a deaf woman who ran a famous café there.
So now it’s over to you, readers. Which women – Italian or otherwise – do you think should be honoured in the street names of a future “streetwise” Sicily?
If you read Italian, we recommend that you vsit the facebook group page, “Toponomastica femminile”, and the website, where you will find fascinating and well-researched details which are being updated daily.