A walk in the park
The issue of the country’s most popular street names seems like a pretty basic one. You’d expect that a quick online search will reveal a clear list, possibly even an official, governmental one. Well, that’s not the case, at least not from the looks of it. Instead, what you get is contradicting data spread across a number of articles and publications. The street names mentioned in these may indeed be the same, but the numbers that describe them aren’t. One source says that there are 3,163 Forest Streets in Poland, another that there’s 2,999 of them, and so on.
The differences in the values are sometimes caused by the varying publication dates – in recent years Poland has experienced a boom in construction, resulting in the appearance of not only new buildings but also new streets leading to them. All sorts of maps are becoming outdated, so a list of streets from a few years back may be lacking quite a few new arrivals.
Then again, even some publications separated by no more than a few months exhibit quite substantial differences – too big to be caused by the work of developers over such a short period of time. In these cases it is, quite possibly, the varying methods of data processing adopted by the respective authors that are responsible for the differences.
So, as you can see, pinpointing the country’s most popular street names isn’t at all a walk in the park. Fortunately though, there is a light shining at the end of all this confusion. Its name is the Central Statistical Office.
The source of Divine Truth
Founded in 1918, the CSO is a state institution that gathers all kinds of data about Poland, most obviously how many Polish citizens are there (38.4 million), and say how many apartments were built nationwide in 2017. Most importantly for us, how many streets there are in the country and what their names are. Basically all the articles and publications about Poland’s most popular street names that want to be credible are based on the CSO’s database. Thankfully, all of this data has generously been put on their website and anyone can analyse it free of charge. There’s even a dedicated search engine on the page. So, instead of comparing contradictory articles, you may skip the middle man and go straight to ‘the source of Divine Truth’.
Unfortunately, a statistical version of the database where you’d have, say, a list of the names that appear most often isn’t available. Nevertheless, the search engine lets you check how many streets named a certain way exist in the country. The fact that the search engine is dedicated ensures that its method of data processing is appropriate, ruling out any mistakes one could potentially make on their own – after all, extracting sense from a collection of over a quarter million items may be a bit tricky for one lone intrepid writer. Also, the online database is regularly updated so no recently-built streets get left out. Using the engine to verify the data from the already-existing articles and publications allowed Culture.pl to create its own, precious list. Having regaled you with this tale of statistical daring do, let’s finally get down to business and reveal the most popular street names in Poland.
The top five
The top five is made up of street names that all go into the thousands (in Polish, the word ulica means ‘street’ and is almost always shortened to simply ul.):
- ul. Leśna / Forest Street – 3,282
- ul. Polna / Field Street – 3,258
- ul. Słoneczna / Sunny Street – 2,750
- ul. Krótka / Short Street – 2,450
- ul. Ogrodowa / Garden Street – 2,303
The most shocking news coming from this freshly-composed list is that we have a new leader compared to all the earlier sources – Forest Street has overtaken the hitherto leader Field Street. Also, Garden Street has somehow made a crawl up the ladder and is now in the top five. But most importantly it becomes apparent that all the top names in Poland are.. rather pleasant and unpretentious. Instead of being a list of ‘Grand Streets’ and ‘Very Important Avenues’ the top five evokes things like nature, plant life and sunshine. Lovely.
The reason for this is that Poland traditionally was, and to some extent still is, a rural and agrarian state. Pole in Polish actually means ‘fields’, so the name of the country itself even seems to reflect this lifestyle. It was confirmed as recently as 2011 in a census (by the CSO, of course), which showed that over 40% of Poland’s population lives in villages. And it is in all these villages that streets such as Forest Street, leading to the local woods and Field Street leading to the nearby fields, recur. Taking the bronze, Sunny Street also highlights the ties of rural communities to nature – crops in the fields need sunshine to grow.
Respect to the patrons
Another way street name statistics can give us a bit of insight about Poland is when we look at the famous surnames chosen to appear in them most often. Yes, it might seem a bit obvious at first, but naming a street after a certain person is indeed a rather significant way of showing respect. Imagine one of your friends came up to you and told you that in view of some achievement they now had a street named after them in your town – you’d probably see that as a remarkable sign of status, and possibly be a bit envious.
Poles don’t throw about the street name honour too easily – the first patron on the list of Poland’s most popular street names is not only outside the top 5 but even outside the top 15 (which includes further ‘rural’ names like Green Street, Pine Street, etc.). In all honesty, it’s tricky establishing the exact position of the ‘first patron’ in the general ranking as the aforementioned statistical database isn’t available, but using the COS search engine and comparing the existing treatments leads to the conclusion that the most popular street patron is situated somewhere around the 20th spot.
So who are the lucky people who have the most streets named after them? Here’s the top five:
- Adam Mickiewicz – 1,102 streets
- Tadeusz Kościuszko – 1,064 streets
- Henryk Sienkiewicz – 861 streets
- Juliusz Słowacki – 817 streets
- Maria Konopnicka – 769 streets
Colonists, Slavic ancestors & the gentry
The biggest surprise is that the pen appears to indeed be mightier than the sword. In most earlier lists, the highest ranking patron was General Tadeusz Kościuszko, a nobleman and soldier best remembered for leading an uprising against Russian and Prussian rule as well as helping clinch a key battle in the American Revolutionary War – hence why he has a bridge named after him in New York City. Now, however, he has been overtaken by Culture.pl‘s own Adam Mickiewicz, Poland’s revered Romantic poet (our portal is an outlet of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which, as you might have guessed, promotes Polish culture).
For Poles, Adam Mickiewicz is as important as, say, Shakespeare to the British. His early 19th-century classics like the verse drama Forefathers’ Eve revolving around the ancient Slavic ancestor-honouring custom of Dziady, or the narrative poem Sir Thaddeus, which portrays the world of the Polish gentry during the Napoleonic era, were highly influential in the shaping of the very idea of ‘Polishness’. There’s no doubt that his first place among the patrons of streets is well-deserved, but who knows, maybe the general will make a spectacular comeback at some point…
The last spot on the podium goes to the Nobel Prize in Literature winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, author of the immensely popular The Trilogy written in the years 1883-1888. Like Mickiewicz’s works, this series of historical novels about Poland’s 17th-century armed conflicts was also highly formative to the so-called Polish consciousness, presenting a gallery of catchy characters like the hot-blooded nobleman Kmicic, the expert swordsman Wołodyjowski and the clever drunkard Zagłoba.
In fourth place, we have the exceptional Romantic poet and playwright Juliusz Słowacki whose early 19th-century drama Balladyna is still often staged in Polish theatres. This highly original work set in an unreal proto-Poland blends a number of genres like folk tale and historical drama, with its titular female character trying to gain ascendency through a series of vile crimes.
The top five is closed by Maria Konopnicka, the acclaimed realist poet and novelist. Her 1908 patriotic poem Rota, a protest against Prussian oppression in partitioned Poland, served as inspiration for many Polish freedom fighters over the years, especially during World War II.
Outside the top five, but also high on the list of patrons are such noted Poles as Pope John Paul II (665 streets), Nicolaus Copernicus (636) and Fryderyk Chopin (514).
What’s really inspiring is that four out of the top five street patrons in Poland are creators of culture, and writers at that. It seems that Poles hold their penmen in high regard, ascribing much value to their work. Especially nice to know if you’re a writer yourself…
Author: Marek Kępa, Jan 2018