Many French street names aren’t particularly surprising. Charles de Gaulle leads the pack as the person with the most streets named after him. Other streets, boulevards, avenues, or places (squares) are frequently named in honor of La République, la Nation, or nearby locations like l’église or le marché.
But some French street, avenue, boulevard, and alley names stand out. They might be downright silly or, in some cases, even obscene.
Let’s look at some of the coolest, weirdest, and most bizarre French street names, and find out how they got their unique monikers in the first place.
– boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle (Good News Boulevard)
It seems like all is well when you’re headed for Paris’s boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle. In fact, as I learned a few years into my life in Paris, the name actually refers to a nearby church, Notre-Dame de la Bonne-Nouvelle (the “good news” in this case being the birth of Christ).
– rue des Boulets (Numbskull Street)
Dating to the 17th century, the boulets this street’s name refers to are probably cannonballs or maybe lumps of coal. But most French people today are more familiar with a figurative meaning of boulet: a numbskull or burden.
– rue Casse-Cul (Pain in the Ass Street)
Although this street, located in the town of Montboucher-sur-Jabron, is extremely popular on lists of funny French street names, it’s impossible to find the origin of its obscene appellation – what a pain in the ass!
– rue du Chat-qui-Pêche (Fishing Cat Street)
In addition to its cool name, this street has another claim to fame. It’s considered the narrowest street in Paris, measuring only 1.80 meters (5 feet 11 inches) in width.
As for its moniker, most sources will tell you that it comes from a tavern sign that hung nearby, centuries ago. This seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation, since many European streets got their names this way. The tavern’s name was apparently a reference to an expression, aller voir pêcher les chats – to allow yourself to be easily convinced of something.
You can see an “Au Chat Qui Pêche” tavern sign painted on the wall beside the street in this 1868 photo, even though the name was already centuries-old.
But other sources, like this one, claim that it comes from a legend of a monk who had a cat that was a master at plucking fish from the nearby Seine. Many people were fans of the cat (I know I would have been) but, as often happens with awesome things, others thought the cat was a demon. One day, three students drowned it. Soon after, it’s said, the cat’s owner also mysteriously disappeared. Years later, he reappeared…and so did the fishing cat.
– rue du Chat-qui-Danse (Dancing Cat Street)
Here’s another unique feline-related French street name. It’s fun to imagine a cat happily dancing along the cobblestones, but the name actually has a sadder significance (well, unless you don’t care for cats). In 1693, the English raided the city of Saint-Malo, where the street is located. Their coup de grâce was supposed to be a giant explosive device capable of killing scores of people. But the bomb exploded early, resulting in only one victim on the French side: a cat. The street was named to taunt the English over this failure. If you feel sad about the cat, you can forget everything you just read and imagine that there was an actual dancing cat there at one point, though.
– rue du Cherche-Midi (Find Noon Street)
The name of this Paris street has always puzzled me. Who’s looking for noon, and why can’t they find it? It turns out that the name refers to a Renaissance-era sign that used to hang there. It depicted people beneath a sundial, cherchant midi à quatorze heures (“looking for noon at two o’clock” – an expression that means to make something simple complicated).
– rue des Crottes (Dog Poop Street)
This street name actually refers to a now-unfortunately named neighborhood of Marseilles, where the sign is located. It’s not just crude humor that makes the rue des Crottes funny; in France, people have a huge problem picking up after their dogs. You could say that many streets throughout the country are worthy of this moniker! You can read some French people’s appreciative comments about this street’s name here.
– rue Derrière l’Église (Behind the Church Street)
There are several rues Derrière l’Église in France (here’s the sign for one of them), but the pragmatism and total lack of imagination in naming them is still pretty funny.
– rue (de) Dieu (God Street)
There are several rues Dieu or rues de Dieu in France, but each one got its moniker for different reasons, from a shortened form of the name of a nearby church, to the last name of a war hero.
– rue de l’Enfer/Passage d’Enfer (Hell Street/Hell Pass)
There are numerous “Hell Streets” in France (the passage d’Enfer, meanwhile, is in Paris), but the most famous one is probably found in the city of Les Sables d’Olonne. For a long time, it held the Guinness World Record for the narrowest street in the world (today, the title belongs to a street in Germany). In this delightful news segment, a local historian says that the street got its name because it’s so difficult to pass through. But for others, it could simply be tied to the religious names of other streets nearby, or even to a legend involving a cat (yes, another cat) and a fireball.
– rue des Frigos (Fridges Street)
Located in Paris’s 13th arrondissement, la rue des Frigos gets its name from the municipal refrigerated storage units that are still located here.
– rue de la Gerbe (Puke Street)
Well, sort of. In fact, this particular street name seems silly only if you think of one particular meaning of the word gerbe – an informal word for vomit. Really, its name should be translated as “Bale of Wheat Street” or “Sheaf of Wheat Street”. Dating to the Middle Ages, this Lyon street’s moniker comes from an old shop sign that showed three people baling wheat straw. But that’s much less fun to think about than “Puke Street”!
– rue Joli Cœur (Flirt Street) and its intersection, la ruelle Casse-Cul (Pain in the Ass Alleyway)
There are at least two streets called la rue Joli Coeur in France. Faire le joli cœur means to be charming and seductive, often with an ulterior motive. That alone makes the street name pretty strange. Then, sometime around the start of the 21st century, the town of Guillestre took things one step further. A nameless alleyway intersected with their rue Joli Coeur, and they decided to dub it “la ruelle Casse-Cul” (Pain in the Ass Alleyway). Part of this was due to the alleyway’s steepness, but there was, of course, the double meaning in mind; some of us are easily seduced by someone who will faire le joli cœur, but others might just look at them and think, Quel casse-cul ! Or only realize their nature too late.
– rue des Mauvais-Garçons (Bad Boys Street)
Located in Paris’s Marais neighborhood, this street was notorious for the criminals and even outright assassins who lurked there, as early as the 16th century. Today, it’s charming, like the rest of the Marais, so don’t worry about stopping by for a fun photo op.
– rue (de) Paradis (Heaven/Paradise Street)
You’ll find a rue Paradis or rue de Paradis in several places in France, including Marseilles and Paris. The street in Marseilles got its name from a nearby church, while the street in Paris may have been a sort of response to the nearby rue de l’Enfer (whose name was changed at some point to the much less interesting rue Bleue).
– rue Pavée d’Andouilles (Sausage-Paved Street)
Located in the village of Saint-Gengoux-le-National, in the heart of France, this street’s name evokes some amusing and perplexing imagery. But the truth is much less bizarre. According to this source, in the middle ages, when streets were being paved, paving stones that weren’t regularly shaped and easy to walk on were known as andouilles (interestingly, today, in addition to a type of sausage, “andouille” is an insult for a stupid person, so maybe there’s a connection of some sort there). The street has recently been restored to its cobbled medieval appearance. Hopefully the paving stones are easier to navigate than they were centuries ago.
– rue Perdue (Lost Street)
There are at least two places in France with a rue Perdue: a town called Laurens in the Hérault region and a town called Serans. Any explanation for the origins of these street names seems to have also been lost.
– rue de la Pie qui Boit (Drinking Magpie Street)
In the city of Saint Malo, locals and visitors alike have some clever guesses as to the origin of this street’s name, but in reality, it refers to the painted façade of a bygone tavern, showing a magpie sitting on a cider press. According to a local bar owner, the magpie in the painting may have represented an actual magpie who drank whatever leaked out of the cider press.
– rue Sans Nom(Street Without a Name/No-Name Street)
It could be that these streets, of which there are a few in France, were simply named by someone lazy, or that their name signifies how they’ve always been known in their town or village. Or maybe they’re actually a tribute to the eponymous novel by Marcel Aymé?
Those are our favorite strange French street names, but there are many other amusing, bizarre, and downright dirty (or at least, depending on which definition you give to certain words) ones out there. You can find more by doing an internet search for “noms de rue insolites en France”.
UPDATE: La rue Pisseuse (Pisser street)
French Together reader David Ashcraft contacted me with another bizarre French street name I just had to share: La rue Pisseuse.
Monsieur Ashcraft lived near the street, located in the village of Nazelles-Negron, years ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like anyone knows why the street got its name, but thanks for the laugh, David!
Why do some French streets have bizarre names?
As you can see from our list, there are several reasons for bizarre French street names: references to old neighborhoods or churches, old tavern and shop signs, and even, simply, modern-day humor.
This being said, it’s important to remember that street names like these are the minority. Most French streets get their monikers from the layout (or former layout) of the town, city, or village they’re located in; historical figures; historical events; and ideals like patriotism (rue de la Nation, etc.).
French streets were first named around the Middle Ages. At the time, the names were mostly descriptions or references to surrounding areas, buildings, churches, and tavern or shop signs. Then, around 1600, it became fashionable to name streets after famous or illustrious figures. Over the centuries that followed, the tradition of naming streets for military victories, historical events, or for memorial purposes, was added to the mix.
How to write a French street address
Whether you’re addressing a letter to a perfectly normal street name, or to one of the streets on our list, writing a French street name remains the same.
In a French street address:
On the first line, write:
– The addressee’s name. If you want to write the addressee’s name, plus their business, write the business on another line.
On the following line, write:
– the house/building number. These are most commonly standard numbers, but sometimes you’ll see a small word added after them, like bis or ter. These usually signify a building or estate that’s been broken into divisions. For example, I know someone who owns an old farm building that they divided into three apartments. The first apartment is 15, the second is 15 bis, the third is 15 ter.
– followed by a comma, although many people leave this out
– followed by the street (or avenue, boulevard, alleyway, lane, etc.) name. You can find the different kinds of street types in French here. As you’ve probably noticed from our list, in French street names, the type of street comes first, then the name. For instance, you say rue des Boulets, rather than Boulets rue. Another thing you’ve probably noticed is that while the name of the street is capitalized in French, the word for “street”, “boulevard”, etc., isn’t. Neither are any prepositions or small words. For example: rue des Crottes; rue du Chat-qui-Danse.
– If you have to include an apartment number or other specific, this would normally come next
On the next line, write:
– the postal (zip) code. French postal codes are five letters long and the first two letters signify the département where a place is located. For Paris addresses, the last two numbers indicate the arrondissement (district). So, for example, the postal code 750001 means Paris (département 75), 1st arrondissement (01).
– The name of the city, town, or village. This is often written entirely in capital letters.
– If you’re sending a letter to the DOM-TOM (French overseas territories), add its name on another line.
Monsieur Charles Laurent
2 rue Perdue
Here are some general examples:
Monsieur Léonard Lechat
1 rue du Chat-qui-Pêche
Note that you can write a title before a person’s name, but if they’re a friend or family member, you don’t have to.
10 rue Derrière l’Eglise
La famille Micheline
3ter rue Pavée d’Andouilles
You can learn more about writing French street addresses here.
Even more fun with French street names
Although they may not be inherently weird or silly, many street names in France incorporate common first names. Do an online search for “rue + [name]” to see if there’s a street in France that shares your name!
Do you have a favorite French street name that’s not on our list? Share it in the comments!
Photo credits: Photo 1 by Alysa Salzberg; Photo 2 by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash; Photo 3 by Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash; Photo 4 by Liam Truong on Unsplash