Why's your road named after an animal? The answer's very ...

News

Why's your road named after an animal? The answer's very interesting

A scientist wanted to know how often the nature is represented in SA street names, so he made a list

Cape Town bureau chief

Pity the poor galjoen. In contrast to the catfish and even the fly, the national fish doesn’t have even a single street named after it in dozens of towns just surveyed by a Rhodes University professor.
Charlie Shackleton, from the environmental sciences department in Grahamstown, wanted to find out how often the natural world was represented in urban street names. It is believed to be the first study of its kind in the world.He counted 4,359 streets in 48 towns and found 484 (11.1%) named after 219 plant species and 231 (5.3%) named after 131 animals. Aquatic, topographic, mineral and astromical references accounted for another 270 names.The national animal, the springbok, got five mentions — the same as the cow — but the lion was the king of the urban jungle with 12 eponymous streets.Revealing his findings on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, Shackleton said increasing urbanisation risked a loss of experience and knowledge about biodiversity.
However, representations of nature were retained in artistic and functional forms, including the names of places, buildings, institutions and streets.“Naming a street after a particular animal or plant communicates those elements of biodiversity that local people hold [or held] in some regard,” said Shackleton, adding that names were part of “biocultural diversity”.“Street names offer an intriguing window into biocultural expressions of how current and previous urban communities [increasingly multicultural and increasingly divorced from direct experiences of biodiversity] view and value the natural world.”Shackleton drew a stripe one degree of longitude wide from north to south, between 26°E and 27°E, and studied the 48 towns it covered. The stripe passed through six of South Africa’s vegetation biomes — forest, fynbos, grassland, nama karoo, savanna and thicket — and three provinces: North West, Free State and the Eastern Cape.It stretches 1,100km from Pella in the north to Kenton-on-Sea in the south and covers five towns — Aliwal North, Fort Beaufort, Grahamstown, Port Alfred and Queenstown — where Shackleton was able to find historical information on street names going back as far as 1850 in some cases.
He used Google Maps to obtain street maps of each town, and for four large towns he sampled only streets in the longest possible kilometre-wide stripe running north to south. Queenstown provided 426 names, the highest in the study, while Hofmeyer and Vierfontein (population 825) provided only nine each.
Shackleton said the fact that alien species appeared in street names reflected SA’s colonial past, and expressed “settlers’ desires for and memories of their formative years in another country”.
He added: “These species have little meaning to modern-day urban populations, many of whom may never have seen the non-native plant or animal in question, yet are encumbered with the name, an anachronistic legacy of colonial power.”The number of streets named after indigenous and alien plants was similar in his study, but 80% of animal names used were those of native species. Most of the animal names were mammals or birds, and no streets were named after spiders.
“The list of plant names was more diverse, covering most life forms such as trees, ferns, shrubs, perennial and annual flowers and succulents,” said Shackleton.
“Several fruit or nut trees were represented, as well as a few herbs and spices, but no street was named after a vegetable.”

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.