“What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”


Juliet, “Romeo & Juliet”

The Sears Tower, soon-to-be Willis Tower in June 2009, located in Chicago, Illinois.

The Sears Tower, soon-to-be Willis Tower in June 2009, located in Chicago, Illinois.

That line is not true; it’s hogwash! And, by the way, if we started calling ‘hogwash’ ‘perfume’ instead of hogwash, yes, it would still smell like hogwash. But why change the name? Hogwash is the perfect moniker for hogwash – everyone knows what hogwash is; don’t change the name, leave it alone. What’s in a name? A lot, that’s what’s in a name. If we start changing all the names of everything, soon no one will know what anything is. Hmmm. Maybe that’s the whole idea, eh?
Why do I bring this up? Well if you haven’t heard, the tallest building in the United States is getting a name change. The Sears Tower in Chicago is turning into something called the Willis Tower. It seems a business deal was struck with the London-based Willis Group Holdings. Along with moving 500 employees into 140,000 square feet on multiple floors of the 110-story building this summer, the Willis Group gets the naming rights as part of its lease agreement with the real estate investment group that owns The Sears Tower.
It is true that Sears has not owned the building for quite awhile. The building was opened in 1973, and Sears Roebuck and Co. was the first tenant and remained headquarted in the building for almost 20 years. Then, in 1992, Sears moved their headquarters out of the skyscraper and now a real estate investment group, which was formed in 2004, owns the landmark building. This is all interesting business history but it doesn’t change the fact that the entire world knows the skyscraper as “The Sears Tower.” Why change the name? It’s an ego trip for the new tenant, that’s why.
Dennis Pacyga, a history professor at Columbia College in Chicago, said he sees The Sears Tower name change as Chicago growing to fit the new global economy. To quote the esteemed professor, “Chicago is shifting and changing, and taking a bigger standing in the world economy. This would be part of that adjustment.” Well, to that I say once again, hogwash. That reasoning would be like saying, “Radio is no longer the premier medium of information and entertainment in today’s world, the computer is. So, by that logic, we should change the name of Radio City Music Hall to Computer City Music Hall.”
But The Sears Tower isn’t the first time a name change has taken place to an established Chicago institution. In 2006, State Street’s world-renowned Marshall Field’s department store became Macy’s. Before that, in 2003 the White Sox’s Comiskey Park became U.S. Cellular Field. I’m waiting for the Loop to be changed to Sony Circle and the Chicago Art Institute to Microsoft Art Gallery. Don’t laugh, it’s not that far-fetched.
Of course, Chicago isn’t the only place where this name changing stupidity takes place; they tried to do it decades ago to Manhattan’s 6th Avenue but the locals wouldn’t go for it. They changed all the street signs to read Avenue of the Americas. The only problem was no one ever called it that. Everyone calls the street 6th Avenue, even though the signs still stubbornly proclaim it to be Avenue of the Americas to this day. Isn’t that just like politicians? They just can’t admit being wrong.
I’ll never forget when Gulf and Western took over Paramount Studios years ago; they couldn’t wait to stick the ‘Gulf & Western’ name on the famous mountain logo, which began every Paramount movie. Coca-Cola did the same thing when they purchased Colombia Pictures. Every time I saw that I wanted to say, “Okay, you own Colombia Pictures, but sticking the name Coca-Cola on the logo gives this movie no added value at all. As a matter of fact, it cheapens the picture.” I guess the geniuses at Coke thought that if they put their name on the logo it would remind the audience to go out and buy a Coke at the snack bar.
A long established name has a meaning for people; it has a value. When you change the name of something it’s like starting from scratch. Okay, let’s change the name of Rolls Royce to Nestlé’s Automobile Company. Let’s change the name of the Hollywood Bowl to Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa Amphitheatre. Change the Empire State Building to the Bloomberg Building.
What’s in a name? How about a recognition factor? How about continuity and tradition? Those things may sound old-fashioned and peculiar to some but to me they still count for a lot. A rose by any other name is stupid and pointless. Sorry Shakespeare.

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