Where am I going with this?
Well, the names of some streets in Croatia can be expressed in two quite different ways. Very often, at one end of a street is a sign written in one of the ways, and at the other end is a sign written in the other way. Non-Croatians may think that these are names of different streets, when in fact they are both names of the same street. Does that make sense?
We live in the same street !!? What's going on?
Let’s suppose that you have been given the name of a particular street where you need to go to pick up your lottery prize (1 000 000 kuna). You use Google Maps to go there, but arrive at that end of the street with a sign written in the other way. You don’t recognise it. It looks different. You think that it is not the street you are looking for. You curse Google Maps, get confused, go home and forsake your prizemoney. Hmmm, it’s a pity that you didn’t know what you are now about to find out (if you keep reading).
But first of all …
Some street names in Croatia consist of only one word. In Zagreb, for example, you can find Ilica (the longest street in Zagreb), Pantovčak (Where the President of Croatia lives), and Zrinjevac (going around the very gorgeous Zrinjevac park, between the city centre and the railway station). And you will find on those streets, as you might expect, street signs that say simply Ilica, Pantovčak. and Tuškanac. And these are the names that you will see in maps. Nema problema …….
[During this time of COVID-19, I cannot go to Croatia. I’d appreciate it if someone in Zagreb would send me photos of street signs in these streets.]
Some streets have an adjective in their name. Some major ones in Zagreb are Maksimirska ulica, Vlaška ulica, and Voćarska cesta. There are no alternatives to these names, and these are what you find on street signs and in maps.
So why are Croatian street names worth a blog post!? Well .....
Streets named after people
Imagine that you and your friend Goran are trying to find number 10 in Babukićeva ulica. You are told that this street intersects Zvonimirova ulica, on the left as you go away from the Zagreb city centre. So, you drive along Zvonimirova, looking, looking, looking, .......... You don't see a sign Babukićeva ulica. Must have missed it! You drive along Zvonimirova again, concentrating like fury. Still no! You think it's time to ask a local, so you turn off Zvonimirova into one of the small side streets and get out. There is a street sign just there ...
You see an old man walking along.
You: Oprostite, gospodine. Tražim Babukićevu ulicu. [Of course you know how to form the accusative form of Babukićeva ulica.]
Old man: Ma, ovo je Babukićeva.
You: Mislim da nije. [Pointing at the street sign…] Ovo je Ulica Vekosljava Babućika! [Your tongue is still not Croatian-coordinated]
Old man: Ulica Vjekoslava Babukića. Kao što sam ti rekao … Babukićeva.
You: [thinking that the old man has lost his marbles, and ever so eloquently ….] Huh?
Old man: Dođite sa mnom.
He walks you to the other end of the street and points to a street sign.
Old man: Gledajte. Kao što sam vam rekao … Babukićeva!
You [to Goran]: Well, we have found the right street. But no wonder we had trouble ….. there is a wrong street sign at the other end!
The old man realises that you talk English, so he talks to you in perfect English …….
“No, the signs say the same thing. Let me explain. This street is named after Vjekoslav Babukić, a nineteenth-century political activist and linguist.
So we can call this street ‘Babukić’s street’ … that is Babukićeva ulica. You know all about the possessive form of nouns and pronouns, right? Like ‘Ivanova žena’.
Or, we can call it ‘The street of Vjekoslav Babukić’ … Ulica Vjekoslava Babukića. You know all about the genitive form after ‘of’, don’t you? Like the wife of Ivan Tomić …. ‘žena Ivana Tomića'.”
You [speechless]: Good golly gosh! A street with two names! [So you weren’t really speechless!]
Old man: No, it has only one name, but it can be expressed in two different ways, which might look quite different to you.
I should also explain something else to you ……. You probably notice that in one form of the street name, we use both the ime and prezime - Ulica Vjekoslava Babukića. In the other form, we use only the surname (prezime) - Babukićeva ulica.
That’s because in Croatian we cannot use a structure like ‘Vjekoslav Babukić’s street’ with the possessor having more than one word.
You know … we can say ‘the wife of Ivan Tomić’ (žena Ivana Tomića) but we cannot use a form corresponding with ‘Ivan Tomić’s wife’.
Just as we can say ‘the leg of the big blue table’ (noga velikog plavog stola), but we cannot use the possessive form ‘the big blue table's leg’ in Croatian.
“Wow!” says Goran. “That is one of the best Croatian lessons I have ever had! But now we are late. We have to go home right away.”
After thanking the old man profusely (Puno, puno, puno vam hvala, gospodine!) you decide that it would be best to go home the way we came – along Zvonimirova ulica. But you are somewhat disoriented now, so you consult your map. Looking, looking, looking ……..
“Hey, Goran, I can’t find Zvonimirova ulica on the map. I expected it to be an the other end of Babukićeva ulica. No, it’s not there. Where I expected to find it, the map shows a street Ulica Kralja Zvonimira. The street of King Zvonimir!”
“That’s it!” says Goran. “Written in the other, genitive, form.”
I can only reply “Duh!”
Since then, I have become aware of so many other examples:
Antun Bauer Street: Ulica Antuna Bauera, and Bauerova ulica.
Ivan Gundulić Street: Ulica Ivana Gundulića, and Gundulićeva ulica.
Here’s another example that might cause you to raise your eyebrows quizzically:
Nikola Tesla Street: Ulica Nikole Tesle, and Teslina ulica.
Although Tesla was a male, because his name ends with -a it is declined like female nouns. And …..
Ivan Vončina Street: Ulica Ivana Vončine, and Vončinina ulica.
Trgovi i parkovi
The dual-naming system is also used for squares and parks.
Eugen Kvaternik Square (referred to as Kvatrić): You can see at bottom left the name Trg Eugena Kvaternika, and upper right the tram stop at Kvaternikov trg.
And there is, in central Zagreb, Josip Juraj Strossmayer Park, referred to as either Park Josipa Jurja Strossmayera, or Strossmayerov park.
Maps: Make up your mind!
Can someone please tell me why maps (like official tourist maps, and Google Maps) show about half of the names of streets in one of the ways, and the rest in the other way?
In this map section, we can see Babukićeva ulica, Russanova ulica, and Rakovčeva ulica, but also Ulica Kralja Zvonimira, and Ulica Ferde Livadića! You can see such a mixture in maps of any Croatian city or town.
Can anyone explain this oddity? Please tell me.
Streets named after women …..
Here is a list of streets that I have found that are named after women:
Er, ... none! What does this say about Croatian culture (previously, of course)? If you know of one, will you send me a photo of the street sign.
Just as a hypothetical exercise, what would be the two names of Marija Starčević Street (if it existed)?
And don’t forget that all street names, like all nouns, are subject to change according to case. You have to be alert when you see street names in print that are not in the nominative case. And even more alert when you are listening to somebody.
Will you be “tuned in” if you hear sentences such as:
A simple challenge: At the top of this blog is a cartoon. What was the name of the guy after whom the street was named?