My wife Elizabeth tells an amusing story from when she was a child. She was in a grocery store with her mother, named Beverly, and when they got to checkout with their groceries there was a bit of a misunderstanding. The woman checking them out was also named Beverly, and this was confusing to Elizabeth. Until that point in time, she had believed that every person had a unique name and that they were the only ones that were allowed to have that name. Her mother later let her know that it was okay for more than one person in the world to have the same name as her.

Names are a funny thing. In the brilliant play Romeo and Juliet we are reminded that a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. In the context of the play it means that it doesn’t matter what the name of the family being married so long as the people are right for each other. It’s part of what makes the play so tragic — when the lovers fail to get together in the end and instead die.

Does it matter what you call something? When I was in high school, I was happy to attend a Phish concert that was being held at the Knickerbocker Arena. Fast forward four years and I came to see them play again, only this time it had a different name — the Pepsi Arena. Apparently, Pepsi gave enough money that they were able to secure the rights to the name.

Something somewhat similar — somewhat is the key word — is happening in the UK right now with the tower, bell, and clock known currently as Big Ben. As long as I have known about it, it has been called Big Ben. For over one hundred and fifty years, in fact, it has been called exactly that. Now, however, there is a name change in the works in honor of the recent jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth — going from Big Ben to Elizabeth Tower.

The fact that it will be changed does not correspond to the fact that the name change will necessarily be accepted. For example, I know quite a number of people who, over thirteen years later, continue to refer to the venue in Albany as the Knickerbocker, even though it may have been renamed numerous times since then. Just like this, it could be that the official name will be changed, but people will be quite slow to accept it. People who will know of it for the first time might accept it right away, but people who have known the tower for their whole life may never call it anything other than Big Ben. It is akin to when a store changes its name and shoppers continue to call it by its old name years later. May it smell just as sweet regardless of its name!


  1. Great article, Gordon! There was a major department store where I grew up called “Miller & Paine” and then it became a Dillard’s. All the old timers called it “Miller & Paine” while all the new residents called the store Dillard’s. It was always confusing when people appeared to be talking about different stores when it was really the same building in the Gateway Mall:

    1. Thanks, David. It’s like the Bon Marche in Seattle which was bought by Macy’s and at first was called Bon Macy’s to help with the transition and finally just Macy’s — yet plenty of people still call it Bon Marche.

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