The streets of Lisbon are not just places to pass through. They are also places of tribute. Walking through Lisbon means walking through the history of the city, the country, and even the planet. But, as we already know, history has not always preserved everyone’s memory: or rather, all of them.
What was already expected was confirmed by data: data scientist Manuel Banza collected the streets of Lisbon using data from the Lisbon City Hall and concluded that, in almost 5 thousand streets, only 5% are female toponyms, contrasting with the male ones, which makes up 44%.
The same was done for parks – 7% are female place names, 36% male. For schools – 14% were female, and 43% were male. And hospitals – 11% female, 54% male.
Manuel Banza’s aim is that “there will be a voluntary action of rebalancing, giving more women’s names to streets, and perhaps this is the first step to help increase recognition of the role played by women in our history and our cities,” he explains on his website.
“This is precisely why I decided to do an analysis that tries to show the inequality that currently exists in the distribution of streets with women’s names compared to streets with men’s names.”
On this map, in red the streets with women’s names:
“Looking at the numbers is always fundamental,” says Patrícia Santos Pedrosa, an architect and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies (ISCSP, ULisboa). “We get to have facts, and the facts are clear. In other words, there is no equality.
The parishes of São Vicente, Carnide, and Campo de Ourique are the parishes with the most women’s names as a percentage of the total. There is no exact explanation for this.
When women become streets
The results of this study are in line with another work, carried out in the city of Porto by João Bernardo Narciso and Cláudio Lemos: also in this city, 44% of the streets carry male toponyms.
In 2018, Público did this analysis for the whole country and concluded that only 15% of streets had female first names.
To understand what is going on here, you have to go through the history of the cities.
In Lisbon, toponymy was formalized at the time of the Marquis of Pombal – until then, streets were simply known by names that the people gave them. Nothing formal. However, from the 19th century onwards, illustrious figures began to be honored.
Women? “Only queens, saints, occasionally some anonymous characters linked to certain professions”, says Patrícia Santos Pedrosa. Manuel Banza confirms: “Many of the names of women are the names of saints or queens, more than men in the percentage of each gender”.
This is the case of the largest street with a female name, Rua Maria Pia, Lisbon’s first circular street, in Campo de Ourique – Alcântara, which pays tribute to Queen Maria Pia of Saboia, wife of King Luís I, known for her charitable works.
Among the anonymous figures, there is the case of Ferrugenta, from Beco da Ferrugenta. Who was she? Leonor Maria, a resident and baker of His Majesty, and who will have been widowed by a man with the surname Ferrugento. A woman is known by her husband’s name.
Or the Triste-Feia (Sad-Ugly), which Appio Sottomayor described in a communication during the Lisbon Toponymy Meetings: “We do not know the exact name of the woman who was Triste Feia nor, strictly speaking, the time in which she lived. What is known for sure is that it was the people, her neighbors, who immortalized her characteristics.
Tradition has it that three sisters lived there, two of them being normal girls with the youthful vigor of their youth; the third, however, had features so unpleasant to the eye that the boys who passed by in search of conversation ran away commenting: ‘what a pig’s snout!
Of course, her sisters married and she was left alone, seeing old age come and her ugliness worsen. But, according to the chronicles, sympathy had nothing to do with physical attributes.
Thus, many people overcame their reluctance for such an ugly being and managed to strike up a conversation and even almost make friends. But the poor person’s life was almost always spent sitting at her door, in a sickly melancholy.
What is certain is that she died – and nobody forgot her. The place became known for the unpleasant attributes of its most notable resident. And Triste Feia has remained until today, without the designation of a street that doesn’t need it”.
Only after the Republic did this scenario start to change, as Manuel Lopes, the toponymy enthusiast that Mensagem has already written about, explains.
During the Estado Novo, as many as 55 women were honored by the erection of new place names: among them, Marie Curie, Florbela Espanca, Maria Amália Vaz de Carvalho…
But there’s a change after 25th April. “With streets like Natália Correia, Catarina Eufémia, or the architect Maria José Estanco. It’s obvious that other profiles are beginning to be valued”, confirms Patrícia Santos Pedrosa. “There is a paradigm shift.”
For Manuel Lopes, a great change occurred with Jorge Sampaio’s presidency of the City Hall. But it was not enough.
Manuel Banza’s study shows that the evolution of female place names in Lisbon over the years has not been significant – a concern that has already been expressed by the Bloco de Esquerda party (Lef Block) in a City Council meeting this year.
The fact is that giving female place names, in a city dominated by male streets, is not only a tribute, or a way of making their contribution known: but it also functions as “a model for the younger generation”, explains architect Patrícia Santos Pedrosa. “It broadens what could be the map of female role models, helps us to imagine things other than what gender stereotypes configure.”
And it is precisely for this reason that Patrícia Santos Pedrosa considers it important that the Municipal Assembly, the City Council, and the Lisbon Toponymy Commission commit themselves, from now on, to assign only female toponyms. “To ensure that there is micro compensation for the centuries and centuries of forgetfulness”.
Manuel Banza, the author of the study, even says about the work carried out: “This may inspire other women. In the fight for their rights and to achieve success in their careers and personal lives. Passing the baton to the next generations”.
For Banza, this analysis aimed to quantify this inequality and to try to initiate the debate that is the most productive, that of thinking of names of women who played an important role in the city or the country and who do not yet exist on the streets of Lisbon.
What suggestions do you have?
Which women should have a street named after them?
Insert in this table: