News & Politics

Even DC’s Street Names Are Political

Boris Nemtsov Plaza isn't the first time we've thought about annoying foreign governments with street signs.

Photograph by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

It might not be as effective as, say, sanctions, but the idea of renaming streets to tweak foreign governments has a long history.

Russian Dissidents

In February, the stretch of Wisconsin Avenue outside the Russian Embassy officially became Boris Nemtsov Plaza in honor of an assassinated Putin adversary. In 1987, the street outside the country’s old embassy was dubbed Andrei Sakharov Plaza after the famed Soviet dissident.

A Castro Foe

When the Cuban Embassy reopened in 2015, Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation to name the street in front after Oswaldo Payá, who protested Fidel Castro’s regime and died in a mysterious 2012 car crash. The proposal remains mired in the legislative process.

A Chinese Nobel Winner

The road in front of the Chinese Embassy almost became Liu Xiaobo Plaza to honor the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The effort fizzled when President Obama threatened a veto.

Anti-Apartheid Activists

In 1985, Marion Barry proposed renaming Massachusetts Avenue in front of the South African Embassy after Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie. It never happened, but a statue of Nelson was unveiled outside the embassy—now under new management—in 2013.

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Assistant Editor

Elliot joined Washingtonian in January 2018. An alum of Villanova University, he grew up in the Philadelphia area before earning a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post,, and, among others. He lives in Bloomingdale.