Friday, July 06, 2007

Name calling

In his NY Times column on Friday, Clyde Haberman discussed a new study showing that in seven states (but the trend is likely to be national), schools are (re)named "not for people but rather for animals, lakes, hills and other features of nature. (…) Historical figures have taken it on the chin, especially American presidents." In Fayetteville, Arkansas, for instance, Jefferson Elementary School became Owl Creek.

I'm already frustrated by the fact that too many American streets tend to be named after numbers, trees or a relatively small pool of people (JFK, MLK, Roosevelt, etc.), so it saddens me to see schools identified via ever-more bland monikers. Wouldn't it be a lot more fun to have Gertrude Stein High and George Kaufman Middle School? Here in New York, we do have many streets named after locals, but they tend to be honorary names, not the actual street names.

In France we of course have tons of middle and high schools named after various kings, generals, Jeanne d'Arc or De Gaulle. But plenty of others are named after writers (Corneille, Alexandre Dumas, Stéphane Mallarmé, Alphonse Daudet), scientists (Buffon, Pasteur), artists (Picasso, Ingres) and, this being France, philosophers (Michel Montaigne, Henri Bergson, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau). And let's not forget singers (Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens) and at least one comedian (Coluche)

And then there are the ones after regional figures: In Corsica, where I grew up, the local giants—Pascal Paoli and Napoléon—of course have schools named after them. Other choices dig deeper into local lore: I attended the Lycée Giocante de Casabianca, which is named after the son of 18th-century Corsican Navy officer (and representative to the Convention Assembly) Luce de Casabianca; both were killed by the British during the battle of Aboukir. Turns out there's even a British poem about Giocante's heroic death. I mean, WTF?!?

All this to say that naming a school after writers and poets and artists helps a nation remember what's important in life, and where it came from. Obviously it has the potential to be perceived by some as divisive but you build a country by rallying around its artists, writers and scientists. Of course, I realize I'm hopelessly old-school and old-world in thinking like this…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

and I love how in Paris the street signs often have an epithet or brief description to go with the name.