Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Naming Rights: Chuck E. Cheese’s Bridge, Tokitae, and Joe Spike Dog

Some found amusing the proposal by State Representative Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) to let state and local agencies raise revenue by charging for the right to rename public buildings and infrastructure. She said the idea came to her while brainstorming how to curb tolls on the Tacoma Narrows bridge. ("Lawmakers fear names like Chuck E. Cheese Bridge")

I think we’ve already gone down that slippery slope and it’s hard to stop, especially when the old “revenue in hard times” argument is sung. We name public structures--  Key Arena, Qwest Field, Safeco Field, Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Paine Field— sometimes for money, sometimes just for the honor.

In the last naming round for the new Washington state 144-car ferries, “Ivar Haglund” was supposedly a contender but “Samish” and “Tokitae” were the names chosen. “Tokitae” is also the name given to a captive Puget Sound orca  known as “Lolita” in the Miami Sequarium.  We also name our Southern resident orcas — the J-pod includes Granny, Oreo, and Mike; the K-pod Cappuccino, Lobo and Kali; and the L-pod Skana, Orphelia and Ocean Sun— in addition to giving them numerical designations.

If you discover something you usually get to name it or name it in honor of someone as in the case of Halley’s comet, the Van Allen radiation belt, the Salk vaccine, Vancouver Island, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and Baker. Salish native peoples gave their names to Tahoma and Komo Kulshan. Bert Webber succeeded in renaming Puget Sound and the Straits of Georgia, Haro, Rosario and Juan de Fuca the Salish Sea.

The right name, most people believe, is very important for success or good fortune. A lot of time and money are spent to get it right: Cars get names (Mustang, Jaguar, Eclipse) and some people even name their cars.  Teams have names (Huskies, Sounders, Mariners) and our businesses (Amazon, Starbucks, Nintendo) and our clubs and organizations (Roller Betties, Seal Sitters, EarthJustice).

Our rescue dog came with the name “Joey” but I call him “Joe” because he’s just not a “Joey.” The rest of my household call him “Spike” because he’s not a “Joe’ to them. Parents name their children— and sometimes children grow up and change their names: “Timothy” worked well for parents; “Timothy” grew up and really needed to be known as “Tim.”

Naming celestial objects, bridges, whales, hurricanes, pets and children is not something to be taken lightly. There’s a slippery slope, because I’m sure someone has brainstormed a revenue source that includes selling naming rights for a zoo’s new baby gorilla or tiger. And I’m sure there are weird news accounts where a person has offered to change his or her name in consideration for money or notoriety. “Hi, I’m Papa Murphy Smith. I’d like you to meet my wife, Frito-Lay Smith, and my kids, Pepsi and Mountain Dew Smith.”

Naming is a serious business because, done right, it gives something an identity, a connection to other named things. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge tells me what the bridge spans and the Deception Pass Bridge must be pretty spectacular, even before seeing it. I once knew “Young Dick” Pickering and “Old Dick Pickering. There was no way to get them confused and calling the wrong one at Pickering’s Sand and Gravel for a truckload of cement.

I like the way Carol Kaesuk Yoon, author of Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science, drilled down on what a serious business naming is in her New York Times column, “Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World”--

“No wonder so few of us can really see what is out there. Even when scads of insistent wildlife appear with a flourish right in front of us, and there is such life always — hawks migrating over the parking lot, great colorful moths banging up against the window at night — we barely seem to notice. We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction, of the rapid invasion everywhere of new and noxious species, entirely unaware that anything is happening. Happily, changing all this turns out to be easy. Just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle — anywhere, and they are everywhere — and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. Give a nod to Professor Franclemont and meditate, luxuriate in its beetle-ness, its daffodility. Then find a name for it. Learn science’s name, one of countless folk names, or make up your own. To do so is to change everything, including yourself. Because once you start noticing organisms, once you have a name for particular beasts, birds and flowers, you can’t help seeing life and the order in it, just where it has always been, all around you.”

No “Chuck E. Cheese’s” Bridge, thank you.

--Mike Sato


  1. Well said, Mike! And that quote from Carol Kaesuk Yoon is brilliant. Around our place, we have come to know many of the individual (wild) animals who share the property with us - especially the deer, but also our little squirrel (who I happened to write about today in my blog, coincidentally). Part of our process for getting to know the deer, and understanding how they tick, is to bestow names on them. We try to choose monikers that suit each animal, either by their physical appearance or their behaviour. Over recent years we have enjoyed knowing Old Momma, Pretty Boy and his brother Holey Coat, brothers Spring and Sproing, Solo (who was obviously an only fawn), his mother Teardrop and her sister Goggles. We expect the neighbours have given them different names, but that doesn't matter - whatever names we each use, they can help each of us to better recognize and know these lovely animals and relate to them as unique and worthy fellow beings.

    1. You have a fine sensibility, Laurie. I think the best names are in fact descriptive of some aspect of what's being named: it might be prosaic but "10 Mile Creek" and "Hole-in-the-Wall Pass" and "red-wing blackbird" manage to tell me something. I also think that names should not be given to animals that one is going to slaughter. I called our two baby billy goats simply "gray goat" and "black goat" after making the mistake of naming our first pig-- and even then it was tough to slaughter the goats.

  2. Our Man in Olympia writes: "This is an opportunity for “truth-in-advertising” for public buildings. I am thinking “Koch Bros. Capitol Building” and “Olympia Master Builders Senate Building”. A serious idea: the government takes back the airways and rents them to broadcasting companies. The government could get $20 billion for the super bowl alone. Uh huh. That idea is DOA.

  3. We just call our relatively new County Headquarters The Taj Mahal. I actually don't think anybody minds!

    I planted a bit of Mt. St Helens Red garlic this year. Can you just imagine that taste??? Can't wait!


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