Just How Dangerous is a Name?
This story probably slipped under your news radar. Ole Miss, under relentless criticism, has recently dropped its “Colonel Reb” name and mascot,replacing him with “Colonel Black Bear.” It hardly has the same ring, but it was the politically correct thing to do.
Names seem innocuous—“sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”—yet they carry symbolic punch. Just how far should we go to prevent offense? And how do we measure it?
Take the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, a current focus of protest. Indians are Indians. It's not slang. Neither is “Braves.” In fact, “Braves,” connote the fierce pride and independence of native peoples.
Is it anymore “racist” than the Ragin’ Cajuns, Boston Celtics or Fightin’ Irish? What about the Vancouver Canuks? When’s the last time you heard “canuks” used in a neutral way to describe Canadians? Bethany College calls its mascot the Terrible Swede. Guilford College runs out the oxymoronic Fighting Quaker. Few complain.
The Cleveland baseball symbol--a bright red-faced grinning Indian—is over the line. The team should consider a logo change similar to the Altanta Braves, who went from Indian to tomahawk. “Washington Redskins” is a wincer; a change here would be advisable. Tribe? Natives? Chiefs is already taken. So is Warriors. Teepees? Too wimpy sounding.
There is arguably a public interest in sports nomenclature even if teams are privately owned. But is there a public interest in what you call your child? There is in Sweden. A 1982 law states that those judged “harmful” by the government will not be permitted. This includes one-letter monikers. A couple in 2009 sued for the right to officially designate a child as “Q.”
This could never happen in the U.S., right? If it did, the name would have to be egregious---and it was.Continued on the next page