Monday, May 13, 2013

What's in a name?

The places in this part of New York are nice enough, but they have a public relations problem. Too many of them have awful names. Sorry, but I would never live in Duanesburg, Rotterdam, Delmar or Colonie. The Indian names, like Schenectady and Niskayuna, grate on the ears. The Dutch names have too many V's. Van Vranken? Voorheesville? Sounds like the cast of a horror film. Now, I have nothing against the Dutch, but can you name a popular aspect of Dutch culture? Wooden shoes? How about a famous Dutchman? Rembrandt? Yeah, I was going to say Niels Bohr, but he was Danish.

These towns need trendy names. It's unusual for towns to change their names, but there have been precedents. As always, California is in the lead. When Irvington, Warm Springs, Mission San Jose, Centerville and Niles got tired of being five little jerkwater towns nobody cared about, they joined up and called themselves Fremont, and 30 years later got a Macintosh plant. And even the biggest companies have changed their names. Andersen Consulting caught some backsplash from the Enron scandal so it changed to Accenture. You've never heard of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, but you've heard of Exxon.

Spanish saint names like San Diego are very trendy. Instead of Albany, how about Santa Theodora? The local columnists can call it Saint Teddy for short. True, there were never any Spanish here, but the French weren't too far away. Maybe Sainte Genevieve would be more authentic. Round Rock, Texas is booming thanks to Dell, so geographic features work as names. So let's change Schenectady to Mohawk Bend. Schenectady is a place with a crime problem. Mohawk Bend is a place whose only problem is too many McMansions. And of course, Delmar would have to become Del Mar.

Now if we can only get West Virginia on board. Big Ugly and Bear Waller Holler are two place names near my dad's birthplace that are all too real. Google is never going to build a data center in a place called Big Ugly, no matter how low the taxes are.

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