Where does Paris get its Metro station names?

Wherever did all those names come from? Image: RATP.

A few weeks ago, I finally published the first draft of a piece I’d been agonising about for a while: an attempt to categorise the myriad ways cities name their metro stations, whether after streets, districts, notable people and so on. The article produced more correspondence than anything we’ve published in ages. Much of it was even polite.

Over the weekend, the architect and designer Jug Cerović, whose work we've featured on CityMetric before, got in touch with his own thoughts about naming conventions in his own city of Paris. I thought you might like to see them.

I grew up in Paris, so I'm quite familiar with its metro network and history. There are too many metro station names that fail at their task – namely providing an efficient and useful wayfinding tool. Many are simply too long and cumbersome; others are duplicated, vaguely pointing to a street name but failing to provide accurate location.

I’ve made an attempt at classifying all the stations in Paris. My first observation is that most stations are named according to roads. My second is that, when identifying a name’s origin, it can occasionally be difficult to decide whether it was named after a street or a person.

Usually stations that carry a person's name do it because a nearby street that has this same name: it would take much deeper historic research to tell whether a station was named after a person before the street was named, or whether they have been renamed simultaneously.

For now, I am keeping only two stations in the ‘people’ category: Montparnasse-Bienvenüe (named, in part, after the father of the Metro network, Fulgence Bienvenüe); and Robespierre, which according to Wikipedia was named French revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre by a local communist mayor in 1936. Early in the 20th century, the nearby Rue Robespierre had a different name – so I’d guess it received its current name at the same time or after the station.

Robespierre metro station, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Image: Google.

Another tough thing to work out is whether a station is named after a neighbourhood. I kept stations in this category only if there is nearby street with the same name: otherwise, I considered that the station name refers primarily to the street itself rather than the area, as is the usage in Paris.

Some more observations about streets.

1) Most stations take the name of a lateral street (that is, the cross street) – for example, Bolivar or Garibaldi. This is quite an accurate way to pinpoint their position, provided you know the name of the main street they run under.

2) Sometimes stations take the name of a nearby street, usually because both the one they run under and the one intersecting them are already taken.

Examples include Maraîchers on the Avron and Pyrénées intersection: both these names are already in use elsewhere.

These stations are surprisingly far apart. Image: Google/CityMetric.

3) Some stations take the names of two lateral streets, most often one on each side of the main one they run under – for example, Lamarck–Caulaincourt, or Richelieu–Drouot.

4)  Some stations have the name of the main street they run under, which is confusing, at best. These fall into two subcategories: stations located somewhere along that street (Commerce, Bercy) and stations located at the end of that street (Gambetta, Mirabeau).

Vaugirard metro station, marked on the Rue de Vaugirard (highlighted in yellow). Image: Google/CityMetric.

The best/worst example is Vaugirard, which is located along the Rue de Vaugirard, which, at 4.3km, is officially the longest street in Paris. Talk about accuracy.


5) Some stations have the name of two streets intersecting at its location.

Now this, sincerely, is what I call accuracy – the very definition of a unique point. For example: Reuilly-Diderot.

But of course Paris wouldn't be Paris if things didn’t get more confusing. The problem is that, when a station has the name of two streets, you do not know if the name refers to an intersection, or two lateral streets joining the main street. Sevres-Babylone, for example, refers to an intersection; but Sevres-Lecourbe refers to two lateral streets – or even the same street, which changes its name either side of the intersection with Boulevard Pasteur.

Another curiosity is Pont de Levallois–Bécon. Pont de Levallois is accurate – the station is indeed located on the eastern side of that bridge. But that side of the river is "Levallois", not – as the name suggests – Bécon, which is a district lying on the Western side of the Seine.

Image: RATP, amended by the author.

Then there’s the curious case of Versailles. While it’s not served by the metro, there are three RER or Transilien stations in the area called "Versailles-Something":

  • Versailles-Rive Droite
  • Versailles-Rive Gauche
  • Versailles-Chantiers

As you probably know, "rive gauche" means left bank and "rive droite" means right bank. Yet there is no river at all in Versailles.

The names actually refer to the Right and Left Banks– the areas north and south of the river – in Paris, 20km away. The stations in Versailles are named not according to the place where they are but to the places they are serving:

- Versailles-Rive Droite trains serve Gare Saint-lazare on Paris’ Right Bank;

- Versailles-Rive Gauche trains serve Gare Montparnasse on Paris’ Left Bank.

The same goes for several other nearby stations in Chaville, Viroflay and Sèvres: all are named according to the place they serve in Paris and not the local waterways.

I hope that this work will help users in the future, at least a little. Naming conventions on existing systems could be neater (shorter, more accurate, with less ambiguity); while newly built ones could use more poetry.

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Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.