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Street names indicate how 'Scottish' residents feel, new University of St Andrews study reveals

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People living in areas of Scotland with street names commemorating Britain, such as 'Queen', 'Royal', 'Regent' or 'London', are less likely to define themselves as Scottish only, new research from the University of St Andrews has revealed.

The finding, by Dr Daniel Oto-Peralías, is part of new research focusing on what street names have to tell us about our culture and identity.

Dr Oto-Peralías, of the School of Management at the University of St Andrews, compared the street names of Scottish Westminster parliamentary constituencies with a recent population census asking people to identify their national identity. In areas with a lower number of such union-themed street names, people were more likely to describe themselves as having a “Scottish identity only”.

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The study, published in the Journal of Economic Geography, also shows that religion remains a salient topic with the word “church” featuring in the top four of the ranking of most frequent British street names. The research also found that people in areas with a high percentage of religious-related street names, such as 'church' or 'chapel', were more likely to regard themselves as Christian.

The study of street names

Dr Oto-Peralías said: “Street names are cultural markers of a town and its history, and can be used as a rich source of information to create socio-cultural indicators at the regional and local level. With the help of data software with text analysis capabilities, it is feasible to analyse hundreds of thousands of street names to extract themes and trends capturing the culture and history of the population.”

In his paper, he explains how he used street data to measure national identity: "National identity is another example of a cultural factor that can be captured by street names (Oto-Peralías, 2017). To illustrate this, I create an indicator measuring the percentage of streets containing any one of the following words related to being part of Great Britain: 'Queen', 'Regent', 'Royal', and 'London'.

These names commemorate the British Crown and the British capital city, thereby capturing the population’s attachment to Great Britain. The percentage of streets containing these words is low but there is significant variation across districts. If street names are meaningful cultural markers, we would expect that regions with a higher percentage of streets commemorating being part of Great Britain to be negatively related to the intensity of Scottish national identity. This is indeed what we observe.There is a strong negative relationship between this street-name indicator and the percentage of people stating 'Scottish identity only'." 

Gender inequality?

Many topics can be studied using street-name data, for instance, gender inequality. This new data indicates that the street map is strongly biased toward men, reflecting a history of marginalisation of women in the public sphere, as Dr Oto-Peralías explains: 

“This large bias naturally generates controversy and indeed there are some social movements fighting for more gender equality in street names. This is an important issue because street names have strong symbolic power and can contribute to the perpetuation of those social and cultural values contained in them.”

You can read the study in full here

(images copyright University of St Andrews/ Dr Daniel Oto-Peralías)

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