Jewish World Review April 28, 2003 / 26 Nisan, 5763

Greg Crosby

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By any other name | "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."

--Gertrude Stein

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."

--William Shakespeare

In other words, changing the name of a thing doesn't change what that thing inherently is. Calling a lemon a nectarine doesn't make it sweet. A bucket of dirt is not suddenly worth more because someone decides to call it a bucket of gold. A red-hot ember doesn't cool down simply by changing it's name to a snowball. Most rational-thinking people will agree with these obvious observations, and yet our politically correct society continues to play games with names.

Recently the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to replace the name "South-Central Los Angeles" to "South Los Angeles" because of the negative connotation of South-Central. Helen Johnson, the area resident who proposed the measure, was elated after the vote saying that this would be a day she would never forget. Johnson blamed the news media for perpetuating a term (South-Central) that has become synonymous with crime and poverty. Talking to reporters and television cameras, she scolded them, saying, "Anything bad happens, you get on TV, and the first thing you say is "South-Central." Well, yeah ..if the bad HAPPEND in South-Central, the reporters can't very well say it happened in Burbank or Hollywood, can they Mrs. Johnson?

Helen Johnson is a misguided 72 year old woman who honestly believes that a name-change will really help the reputation of her neighborhood -- but what's the city council's excuse? Of course changing the name of the area won't do a single thing to change what happens in that area. Will less drugs be sold? Will the incidents of violent crime go down? Will residents actually be safer? Changing the name of something to another thing that may "sound better" might make residents feel better about where they live, but it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of why a name takes on a negative connotation to begin with. Name changing is the easy way out -- a fake anecdote for a real problem.

From now on when a gangster gets whacked somewhere south of the Santa Monica Freeway, it will be reported as a murder in "South Los Angeles" instead of "South-Central Los Angeles." But how many drug busts and gang killings will it take before the name "South Los Angeles" takes on that same negative connotation and needs to be changed yet again? It's the search that never ends for the magic name that will finally turn the neighborhood around. You want a fancy name? Why not just call the area "Beverly Hills South" and be done with it? But even that won't change anything except making the folks in Beverly Hills really mad.

This week business offices throughout America observed Administration Professionals Week. Once upon a time this was called Secretaries Week, but I guess someone decided that "secretary" sounded too demeaning or something, so they changed the name. Personally, I never found the term "secretary" any more demeaning than other job related names of working people -- grocery checker, plumber, gardener, electrician, doctor or nurse, for example. If secretary is a bad word, then why not change the word across the board? Call Donald Rumsfeld the Administrative Professional of Defense and Colin Powell the Administrative Professional of State.

Secretary isn't the first job title to be altered. The word "porter" is now thought of as derogatory -- replaced by "baggage-handler" or "railroad car attendant" What was wrong with the word porter? A simple little six letter name that described perfectly what the job function is has been replaced by a cumbersome two or three word job title merely because, I presume, someone thought that "porter" was somehow offensive or demeaning. Does the term "baggage-handler" give the job more dignity? Well, maybe in the same way that calling a rapist a "forcible sexual intercourse provider" does. Face it -- no matter what you call a porter it doesn't change what he is -- i.e. a person who shleps luggage for a living.

Earning a living as a porter is honest, decent work -- nothing wrong with that. Being a secretary is an honorable profession, nothing to be ashamed of. Trial lawyers, now that's something else again. Public opinion polls have consistently shown trial lawyers to be one of the least trusted professions, coming in just above telemarketing solicitor and just below network news anchorman. So if we change a name of a job, let's start with the lawyers. Maybe call them "Anything-for-a-buck Professionals."

And while we're at it, we might consider a name change for the Los Angeles City Council -- that same highly ethical, moral, patriotic political body that wouldn't give a vote of support to our troops and our president in the war with Iraq about a month ago. Yeah, I've got a really good name change for them --- but I try not to use that kind of language in my writing.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby