Tag Archives: etymology

What’s in a Name?

August 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Gertrude Stein continued, “A rose is a rose is a rose” in her poem “Sacred Emily.” NBC’s Craig Calcaterra concluded, “Pete Rose is a cheater.”

In my opinion, it is important what we name things. Take the “rose” in the above statements. Change “rose” to “salamander.” Juliet’s take on the scent of a salamander would not be quite so romantic. Stein’s poetic reflection on identity would lose its meter. And Pete Salamander would be in the Hall of Fame. Names are important.

When I was a precocious toddler on the verge of verbal proficiency, my family went to the beach. My young eyes took in all the new, heretofore unimagined, sights around me. The surf rushed in around my knees when suddenly, I saw it, and, in a flash, I knew what to say: “Clam!” I pointed at the new thing. I was naming the unnamed. The human need to understand drives us to categorize things in order to organize the universe in our minds. Naming things is an essential part of that process.

“Clam!” I said again.

“It’s a seagull,” said my father patiently. “Sea-gull.”

“Clam!” I liked the sound of my word better. What did I know? I was only a 1-year-old. I was transfixed as I watched the clam spread its wings and take to the sky, heading out over the waves towards the far horizon.

What I’m trying to say is, it is good to name things, but it is also a good idea to do it correctly.

When I was a somewhat older kid, I fell in love with baseball. I would take every opportunity to head down Brooklyn Avenue in Kansas City to watch my beloved Athletics at Municipal Stadium. Yes, the field was called “municipal” because it was a municipal building, that is, it was owned by the city. Cleveland had a Municipal Stadium, too. No one was confused. The name made sense. Here in Omaha the baseball park was named after Johnny Rosenblatt. That made sense because Johnny was a good guy and there would not ever have been such a stadium had it not been for his efforts.

The Bears play at Soldier Field. The Bills used to play at War Memorial. The Yankees played at Yankee Stadium—where else? Now some fields had names like Wrigley, but that was because Mr. Wrigley actually owned the stadium. He built it with his own money. Wrigley Field as a name makes sense.

But…here comes the old codger part…now we have this thing called “naming rights.”  Companies pay money to have their logos stamped above the entrances and scoreboards. It’s getting ridiculous.

If not for “naming rights,” whoever would have thought of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix, or the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento? And the latest worst and most terrible, stupid, regrettable stadium name of all time is…wait for it…

ENRON Field in Houston. Ouch. The perils of selling naming rights.

Here in Omaha we have a beautiful downtown venue. It was called the Qwest Center, then the CenturyLink Center, and now it is tagged as the CHI Health Center. We could have done worse, I guess, but I still wonder, when I hear the name, should I take an Uber to the concert or an ambulance?

I hope to hit a Powerball someday. I’ll buy the naming rights and proudly watch the letters go up on…wait for it…Municipal Arena. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.