Under- and over-represented countries
Speaking of power and privilege, the ranking of the most popular people in the street names of European capitals is populated almost exclusively by white people. Excluding Christian religious figures from the Middle Eastern or North African regions of Anatolia, Palestine and Egypt, there are only five people of non-European descent on the list. Four of them, however, have more or less distant European roots, i.e. George Washington, Thomas Edison, John F. Kennedy, and Simón Bolívar, while the only figure actually having a different background is Mohandas Gandhi.
As for those born in Europe, 41 of the 100 most popular figures were born in places that today belong to the three most populous states of the European Union: Italy (15), France (14), and Germany (12). Five people for each country were born within today’s borders of Sweden, Russia, and Poland.
Compared to their weight in European history and their nowadays population, countries such as the United Kingdom and Spain seem under-represented in the list – but they are perhaps penalised by the selection of cities covered by the analysis. On the other hand, the number of people of Nordic origin catches the eye: including the five Swedes, there are eight of them and many are high in the list.
More than 23,000 figures have at least one street or square named after them in at least one of the 15 capital cities examined. Almost 95 percent of them are present in only one city however: just few people have acquired celebrity in two or more different countries, that is 1205 figures in total.
Where are Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Rosa Parks? In our ranking, a number of internationally celebrated figures are missing or feature in very low positions. This is the case for instance for some of the figures featuring in the top-10 list of Pantheon.world’s ‘list of memorable people’, such as Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, or Alexander the Great.
In our ranking, Jesus of Nazareth ranks very low (at 96th position, with 6 roads in only 5 capital cities), in contrast to the conspicuous number of Christian saints celebrated in multiple cities, including his mother and grand-mother. According to Fernando Bermejo-Rubio, scholar and author of The Invention of Jesus of Nazareth, this disproportion is due to the fact that “human devotion usually turns not to the highest divinity but to closer figures such as saints and the Virgin Mary, considered as more accessible and mediators between God and human beings”.
Moreover, adds Bermejo-Rubio, “the multiplicity of these mediating figures implies that they might have a more local ‘presence’ and significance, as proven by the many saints or virgins linked to different countries, regions, cities or villages. There are also many accounts of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions, whereas the same is not true of Jesus.”