The subject of this post could be considered by some to be quite controversial. Most, if not all cities take great pride in their name and the history surrounding it. But, are there times when the name takes on such a negative connotation in the public realm that it does more harm than good…where the name itself is a hindrance to the city’s well-being? I believe this is possible, especially in our digital age, which makes it so much harder to get past old notions, misconceptions, bad perceptions, and in some cases outdated information.
Here in Michigan, several cities have long battled negative stereotyping – among them Detroit and Flint. Even with all the positive press over the past five years, there are those who still consider Detroit a lost cause. A relative of mine (who does not live in Michigan) noted a few years back that he thought the city had a serious branding problem that will be difficult to overcome. At the very least, Detroit has to work that much harder to prove itself than other cities with glitzier personas.
Likewise, another relative just this past weekend indicated they thought Flint should change its name. In her opinion, as a native Michigander, the perceptions associated with the name Flint are too hard to surmount. She may be correct, though some in Flint would probably have something to say about suggesting a name change.
While not a comprehensive list, my guess is the city names provided below might NOT conjure up images of peaceful bliss and economic vitality.
- East St. Louis
Meanwhile, there are other city names that are simply difficult to make sound attractive – city names that only their founders or diehard supporters could truly love.
And then there are those cities listed below that have managed to successfully stem or reverse their negative imagery, though it does take time, effort, patience, and persistence.
- Jersey City
Regardless, whether the mere mention of a city’s name evokes unfavorable reactions or mocking commentary, cities with negative images have a difficult task to overcome the poor perception. How many times have you heard Cleveland referred to as “the mistake on the lake” or Waco as “Wacko?” A city is a brand just like any other product, good, or service. When its brand is perceived as damaged or tarnished, whether justified or not, it is extremely hard the reverse. Each time a negative news story is published, printed, blogged, or stated about these cities, it is yet another hurdle for to them to leap before they can regain and hopefully retain a positive perception.
Many cities throughout history have changed their names for one reason or another, though the idea of rebranding a city is a fairly new phenomenon, and renaming a city for rebranding purposes even more so. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened previously. Four examples this author is aware of are the following:
- Alligator…now Lake City, FL
- East Detroit…now Eastpointe, MI
- Pig’s Eye…now St. Paul, MN
- Sing Sing…now Ossining, NY
All of these cities changed their name in an effort to improve their image to the outside world and to themselves. No doubt such a process would be controversial, would involve a number of expenses, and take a great deal of time.
On the other hand, this author does not see historical convention or tradition as being good rationales for not changing a city’s name. If the current name truly hinders, hampers, or even harms a city’s future potential, then a name change may be warranted, if not overdue. Granted, a name change alone will not resolve endemic problems, but if it makes residents feel better about their surroundings or prouder of their community, then what’s wrong with that?
In the end, the final decision rests with those who live in such cities. If they are comfortable with the current city name, then we all should respect that decision, even if we may disagree with it ourselves.