Don’t call it ‘Frisco.

Think: if a town (or, I suppose, a new apartment complex) were named to honor Muir, Thoreau, or god forbid, Rachel Carson, would you expect to find a gaggle of neo-cons flocking to sign leases?  Placenames play, almost subconsciously, on our self-identity.  Although most American cities were named long ago, they still stir up passionate reactions.

As an example, in  ”Speaker,” the autobiography of former republican speaker of the house Dennis Hastert, he goes on a page-long tirade about the renaming of the county we both shared as home: Kendall County in Illinois.

According to Hastert, Kendall County was originally named Orange County in honor of the east coast origin of some early settlers, and was renamed after “that liberal Jackson Administration” refused to provide the county with a post office until it was renamed after the Postmaster General… or something like that.  Point being, Hastert points to this story of the placename as the reason he’s the staunch conservative he is today.

Power over a place can be achieved, in part, by controlling the name of the place.  The act of naming a place can be both a source and an outcome of a struggle for power, and a mechanism of social control.

During 2007, in San Jose, CA, a battle raged within the community over what name should be assigned to the Vietnamese business district: “Little Saigon,” “Vietnamese Business district,” ”New Saigon…” and after the City Council selected the name “Saigon Business District” as a compromise among the many factions who had certain names in mind, those who favored the name “Little Saigon” were so enraged that they attempted a recalled of the councilwoman who suggested the compromise.   The recall was defeated only when the City Council rescinded the name (but opted not to select a new one).

Where places were not entirely renamed, most Native American placenames in use today as the formal names of cities, rivers, and other places in the Americas have been severely bastardized - in part, due to the inability of the new arrivals to master native grammar and pronunciation- but undoubtedly illustrating the power that European colonists exerted over the newly conquered land.

On a grander scale,  the totalitarian regime at the helms of the Burmese government have changed the name of the country to Myanmar as one of the mechanisms they employ to enforcing social control.
By naming a place, we are claiming power over it – over not only the land, but those who live there and activity which occurs on the land as well.  The power to name is the power to claim the land as our domain.

So, in short, unless you’re one of those talk show conservatives bashing the West Coast liberal regime purportedly headquartered in what those of us who live here know as SF, The City, or just plain old San Francisco, give St. Francis props… don’t call it Frisco.
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