Renaming your area is a constant battle - Monocolumn | Monocle


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9 January 2012

The Somme area in northern France has chosen a new name. Authorities voted to ditch the title that’s so synonymous with one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles in favour of a new one.

And the alternative brand Somme is Samariens. Which, in case you’re wondering, is derived from Samara, the Latin name for the Somme, which means “long tranquil river”.

Somme isn’t the only region tinkering with its identity – 2012 officially brought another, much less radical change into effect in Denmark.

The Danish town of Aarhus has added an extra ‘a’ to the spelling of its name. Signs are being changed and maps redrawn. And some residents are up in arms. That’s arms with one ‘a’. But the municipal authorities have voted the changes through.

The town’s former mayor, Nicolai Wammen says that he thinks the new spelling will strengthen the city’s international profile and make it easier to access Aarhus via the internet.

Can cities really be reborn by giving themselves a new title? Of course, Norma Jeane did it, and look where that got her. Ditto, John Wayne and Elle Macpherson.

But it’s not all bureaucratic meddling. Cities once re-Christened by narcissistic despots who hoped their legacy might be enhanced by having their name immortalised on the map, desperately need new identities. They deserve a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Take Kisangani, capital of Orientale Province in Democratic Republic of Congo – it was once called Stanleyville after explorer Henry Morton Stanley. And then of course there was Leningrad and Stalingrad. Where to start with those?

But historical connotations don’t count. So surely the Somme crowd should stick with it.

In the UK there are many valiant places who simply choose to embrace their names – Crapstone, Ugley and Titty Ho to name but a few.

What is in a name anyway? The residents of Somme should focus less on rebranding the title of their province and more on the essence and joie de vivre of their area.

A grim, gruesome episode shouldn’t haunt the region. They need to find a creative, positive way of overcoming the events that scarred a landscape and tarnished its name.


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