VB The Wise: What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

So would a marketplace by any other name smell as sweet? Boston is apparently going to have the “name change” discussion again, and this time it’s “Fanueil” Hall. The argument for the proposed name change is simply this: Peter Faneuil was a slave owner and a slave trader, and having his name honored in such a way is an embarrassment to the city. We discussed this at length on the radio show on Monday morning, and every caller wanted to leave the name as Faneuil Hall. Not one caller or texter said, “yes, change it!” The argument for keeping it as is was threefold:

  1. We shouldn’t forget our history.
  2. You know who changes history? Fascists and commies.
  3. We can’t hold people to 2018 standards that lived in the 1700s.

But allow me to counter those three points, if I may.

  1. “We shouldn’t forget our history.” Ok, but do we really “Know” our history? After all, we don’t even know how to pronounce “Faneuil.” Is it “fan-you-ul”, is it “fan-you’ll”, or is it “fan-el”? Also, how do you spell it? And what does anybody know about Peter Faneuil, other than he donated that land for the marketplace. If naming something after someone is supposed to mean we don’t forget thatr someone, this one seems to have failed.
  2. Fascists and commies do indeed change history. So do the rest of us. You watching any Bill Cosby shows lately? Is that Joe Paterno statue still up at Beaver Stadium? Does Marlboro, MA still celebrate at a Horatio Alger festival? Look, things change, and when new information becomes available, we sometimes change things.
  3. Why can’t we hold 1700s folk to our standards? There’s nothing written that says once something is named for someone, it has to be that forever more. People in the 1700s had different standards, and they decided to use Faneuil’s name. But it’s 2018, and maybe the decision making process then (if there was one) doesn’t hold water today. In the same way callers suggested “we shouldn’t forget our history,” may I suggest that “we needn’t be a slave to that same history?”

Look, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep one way or the other when it comes to what we call “Faneuil Hall.” My view on these matters, whether it be a General Lee statue or a Yawkey Way street name, is that we needn’t be afraid to re-evaluate these things. And if we do decide to change them, nothing is “lost”. Lee was a Civil War general, Yawkey did own the Red Sox, and Faneuil did donate that land. But we don’t HAVE to honor them forever. We can, but we don’t have to. There’s nothing wrong rviewing these things once in a while.

More wisdom next week.

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