Tuesday, April 6, 2010

U.S. Board on Geographic Names

Easter Break and trip back to S. Indiana (which entails intermittent internet access) has prevented me from blogging for a bit. I am going to sneak a short one here to get back into the swing of things.

This from a Los Angeles Times story on the agency, named in my title, that is
responsible for deciding the names of natural features, including glaciers, mountains, valleys, rivers and ponds.
Now, I obviously love this sort of thing because it draws attention to the inherently political/rhetorical act of naming: no naming is value-free or "innocent." Additionally, the presence of a board to adjudicate such matters (the board does not propose names; it only acts on suggestions from citizens) reminds us that because naming is value-laden it is necessarily contested. Names matter and so we fight about them (or, better yet, we all know they are important because we fight about them, which is to say that if they were indeed value-free and innocent we wouldn't care one way or the other: the proof of my argument is in the argumentative pudding).
Soon the naming authority will find its own name in the spotlight.

In an upcoming decision, the panel will take up a controversial request by a Bay Area man who filed a request to change Mount Diablo in to Mount Reagan because he finds the name, Spanish for "the devil," to be offensive. His request touched off a flood of Internet opposition, and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted against the idea and sent an opposition letter to the federal panel.
Given that the board has recently approved the name "Devils Anvil Peak," it seems unlikely that they will likewise find "Mount Diable" offensive. Now, of course there will be cries of "politicization of the naming process" and howls of "why does everything have to be so political?" I have suggested it is inherently political, and I would suggest that such instances serve as uncomfortable reminders of this. And I would conclude this short blog by suggesting that complaints of "politicization" come not just from those who disparage politics but from those who lose naming contests.


  1. ...keeping in mind, of course, that no naming contest is ever decided finally. My brother and father and I will always call whatever ballpark the Tigers play in "Tiger Stadium," regardless of how much cash the official sponsor has paid to name it.

  2. I like the addition you add above. I should have added that myself. And I am with you on the "official sponsor" issue as well.

  3. I tried to name my daughter Fenway, but the other politicians in my life lobbied for a change. In a long view, that's probably a good thing.

    And, agreed on how "official" official naming can be--I still call the new Patriot's stadium Foxborough regardless of corporate sponsorship. And I must say I am happy that the Yankees didn't prostitute the naming rights to New Yankee Stadium. Oh, wait, they tried to...