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The thankless task of naming London Overground Lines

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Faded image of the London tube map with the Lioness line marked in black and a post-it with Wembley Stadium written on it

London Overground has a peculiar history. It's a mix-and-match of former train lines slowly absorbed by Transport for London over many years. Rather than buying separate tickets, passengers could use their Oyster Card to tap in and out of these stations, making it more flexible and faster to travel around bits of London.

Of course, this meant there was a mass of Orange all over the tube map, and it wasn't clear which bit of the Overground you needed to get around. Therefore, it made sense to divide the network within a network into separate lines. And as is the way with such things, these lines needed names.

Transport for London announced the new names in mid-February to a collective sigh. Either they were amazing or a sign of the culture war gone mad. Somewhere in the middle sits, I imagine, most Londoners who just went, "Oh, interesting" and carried on with their lives.

Lionesses and Suffragettes

I won't dwell on the names and their history - TFL does a better job - other than to pick up on two: Lioness and Suffragette. And no, not for the misogynistic reasons floating around.

Setting aside being a nickname for the England Women's football team, it's not amazingly easy to say or hear. I'd have gone with the Wembley or Watford line, which is what it was called by commuters when I was on it more or less daily. It's also much more accessible for the multitudes of Football Fans who are most likely to be the primary non-Londoner users.

Suffragettes has a different issue. It's going to be called the "Suffering Line". That's just how Londoners think. Any opportunity to take the mickey out of something is enjoyed.

(For the record, I'm on team Pankhurst Line.)

A thankless task to name a railway line

I don't envy the people who come up with these names. Whatever they choose, no matter how well-intentioned, will draw detractors. Overall, I think they've done OK with these. In a few years, visitors will merrily chug along the Mildmay Line with no more awareness of its meaning and history than those who use the Northern Line.

Nor do I envy those who have to redesign the Tube Map. It's already a mess of epic proportions with far more information than originally intended. That could signify how successful TFL has been in linking disparate bits of transport infrastructure.

I have seen variations on the tube map that split underground and overground sections. As for those claiming it doesn't matter because of "Apps," I invite you to stand near any tube map on the Underground and observe the many people who use them to work out how to get around. And that includes Londoners caught out when disruption occurs.

Londoners will be Londoners

Anyway, all this argument and soul searching is ignoring one fundamental truth about Londoners:

whatever you call a thing, we'll moan about it and call it something else.

If you're lucky, we might agree on what that "something else" is.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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