Thursday, July 16, 2009

Changing Names (or not)

I was in Chicago a few days ago, and just about where-ever I went I saw the Sears Tower, what it's being 110 floors high and all that.

Today its name was officially changed, in accordance with the wish of a company that has rented some of its office space. If Chicagoans are anything like Jerusalemites, this will never work. Decrees changing names gratify the bureaucrats that decree them, but the populace doesn't have to follow suit merely because someone decreed.

The Jerusalem bureaucrats on both sides of the city dictated new names to the neighborhoods the other side had left behind in 1948. On the Jordanian side this seems to have worked; no Arabs clung to the names Neve Yaakov, for example, or Rova Yehudi in the Old City. On the Israeli side, however, the locals couldn't be bothered, and kept the Arab names no matter what the bureaucrats wished. Talbiye remained Talbiye, not Kommemiyut; Katamon is still Katamon, not Gonen, and so on. If you think about it, this is even a bit funny, since places such as Talbiye and Katamon were mostly invented after World War 1, which means they were Arab neighborhoods for, say, 25 years, and have been Jewish for more than 60, but the Jews still insist on calling them by their Arabic names.

It's not only language, however. Ask people where Ganei Katamon is and no-one except the immediate locals will know; ask people where Migrash Hapoel is - the soccer stadium of Hapoel -and they'll tell you exactly where it was, even though it's been gone, by now, for almost as long as it ever existed.

I don't go to Chicago very often, but I'll be very surprised if next time I'm there anyone knows where the Willis Tower is.

1 comment:

Dimitri said...

I have to tell you that in NYC the name changes have been successful. Two most notable examples: the PanAm building has been renamed MetLife building, and the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center has been renamed the GE Building. Both buildings are referred to by their new name.

One of the reasons for the new names sticking can be the constant inflow of new population in to NYC. My wife, who came to NYC 10 years ago has never heard of PanAm building or the RCA building, and therefore refers to these places by their new name.