Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Say My Name Correctly, Please

It should not take much to make this particular point. What does a place name tell us about a country and its people? It can say many things, not all of them profound.

A friend who works in the broadcast media wrote about the recent naming of the Six Roads Roundabout after Wynter Crawford, citing the PM, who felt that this was appropriate for the late politician and social activist, but that Mr. Crawford deserves more: "I acknowledge that though this activity is most appropriate, it is still not enough to mark the formidable intellect, foresight and integrity that characterised the man whose name this roundabout will bear", the PM has said (see Sunday Sun report).

My friend pointed out that while the Six Roads Roundabout was officially renamed (according to the Sunday Sun) 'Wynter Algernon Crawford Circle', the sign only says Wynter Crawford Circle. So, what more should be done? Some talk of making Mr. Crawford a national hero, so the debate will now rage.

There is often much debate about naming of public buildings and structures after famous people and significant national figures. People's views on the need or appropriateness of this differ widely.

One prominent former newspaper editor-turned-commentator argued extensively to my friend, citing his uphill battle to see the "nondescript name Highway 2A" banished over that stretch of road from Warren's to Mile-and-a-Quarter that has been named The Ronald Mapp Highway... Similarly, the main stand at the National Stadium has a small area reserved for VIPs, which is no longer called The Louis Lynch Stand, but the VIP stand." And so on.

There are 11 roundabouts on the ABC Highway (now 12), but are they called by their correct names? Recently, in the space of a 30-second radio notice, the C.O. Williams PR folks managed the refer to the Henry Forde Roundabout by two different names. Of course, the circle is also called The Chickmont Roundabout. One friend gave me directions to his house and mentioned 'Newton Roundabout' for the same spot. I managed to find his house.

The former newspaper editor-turned-commentator concluded "We don't treat these aspects of our heritage seriously." He's right, but not totally.

People take to name changes more or less willingly for a host of reasons, not least depending on the social and historical connections that they have with the place. Many Americans are now living the horror of famous sports stadiums being renamed for the latest sponsor. Take the former Shea Stadium, in Flushing NY, and home of the New York Mets baseball team. Originally to be called Flushing Meadows Park, but the stadium was renamed in honor of William A. Shea (who was instrumental in getting the national franchise for the city), thus getting its name Shea Stadium. It was demolished in late 2008 and would be used for car parking. The replacement stadium is called "Citifield". Oh, how the magic has suddenly gone! NewYorkers will continue heading to 'Shea Stadium'.

Some feel that this looseness with names is worrying as a sign of our growing comfort with mediocrity, our scant respect for detail more so when we should be paying close attention to the presence of an audience or readership. In that view, we seem unmindful of students, scholars, historians who hear and read what we say. But lastly, can names of places be twisted as is our wont and all is supposed to be well?

When I lived in Washington National Airport was renamed Ronald Reagan National Airport, and the name became a political football.

When I worked in the former Soviet Union, Lenin's name could not be removed fast enough from public buildings, and his statues were soon on the ground too. Now, the names of new rules seem to pop up all over the place.

I asked some friends in Jamaica about the name of our country's national airport. Now, it is called Norman Manley International Airport. When I was a boy leaving Jamaica it was called Palisadoes Airport. It took that name from the strip of land on which the airport was built. That name is not only beautiful, but signifies an era: when people travelled to the airport at weekends to wave relatives in or out; when couples would schmooze on the roadway as lovers often do. Now, it is named after a national hero, but sounds like an official complex. For me, the romance is lost. But, one friend fingered another point. She said that it was 'Norman Manley' for her and that she was too young when they changed the name. She wanted to place herself in a generation and talked about how an older generation also remembered air hostesses or stewardesses and not flight attendants. Whether she was trying to disguise her name or not, I'm not sure. "On the way to Palisadoes!" What a phrase that was.

One of my favourite renamed place is one of two airports in Montreal, Canada. In French (and that is relevant in Canada), it is Aéroport international Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau de Montréal, or in English, Montreal-Trudeau, but it was formerly known as Montréal-Dorval International Airport, and many people still use the name 'Dorval'. Fine if you know that, but worrying if you don't and mistakenly go to Mirabel Airport, thinking that is Trudeau. Nearly been there, nearly done that.

I think we should care about the names given to places but remember that officialdom does not govern public preferences. Time will decide what names stick and if they are different from those assigned, then it's worth thinking why. It's a little like people deciding to make a path that cuts across a green by constantly walking a route, rather than use the path that was laid out by the planners.

I am not going to get into the naming of countries or cities, which would be another hornets nest.


A Supporter said...

Interesting how two seemingly very different people can share a pet peeve. In the city where I live, many public parks, which were named after the first families to settle the area and have been known by that name for centuries, are suddenly being renamed after politicians. It is absurd and does not respect the history of those who made their mark long before the current politicians.

Dennis Jones said...

A pertinent question would be 'By what process of choice and selection do such decisions gets taken?' If in some sense a survey or poll or contest were held then many might say, "I can live with that." At least there would be a sense of popular will.

guttaperk said...

...and Enterprise "Miami" Beach?