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What's in a Name -- If It Keeps Changing?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It was inevitable that Little Rock's national airport would be renamed the Clinton National Airport. The sound principle of not naming public facilities for prominent personages until they're safely dead now tends to be honored mainly in the breach.

Here in Arkansas, there's no telling how many Mike Huckabee recreation areas and rest stops now dot the state's once pristine landscape in honor of our former governor, who's about to provide Rush Limbaugh some competition on talk radio.

It's almost a law in these parts by now: The state's many natural attractions are going to be named for retiring members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission until we run out of either lakes or commissioners, whichever happens first.

Our bureaucrats love to name landmarks, whether natural or man-made, for politicians. It's even better, and certainly cheaper, to rename existing streets and structures. That way, we don't have to build them from scratch.

Let it be noted that Little Rock is not alone. Another great American president is memorialized by the Jimmy Carter Regional Airport at Americus, Ga. However dismal his actual record, impeached or un-, a president can usually count on the homers to name a municipal facility for him. Local pride demands it, not to mention the tourist trade.

There are airports named for former presidents all over the country. And an official Richard M. Nixon presidential-library-and-museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., that features his presidential limo and helicopter plus his actual birthplace and grave. Not to mention a genuine authentic replica of the Lincoln sitting room in the White House. There's nothing that the good old, red-white-and-blue American can-do spirit can't vulgarize. As the late great H.L. Mencken told us, there's no underestimating the taste of the great American public.

Presidents change, and so does historical fashion. Every president, no matter how much once reviled, can still come back into style. Harry Truman may have been the least popular president ever when he left office, but he's staged a great posthumous comeback in the presidential ratings. And despite the scandals that marred his administration, Gen. Grant has moved up dramatically in the presidential sweepstakes; persistence always was his strong point. Why, even Warren G. Harding's fiscal and diplomatic policies are starting to look good when compared to the current president's.

Every occupant of the Oval Office can be a comeback kid in fickle Clio's ever-changing preferences. For the muse of history, like any other lady, reserves the right to change her mind.

Of course, there'll always be a few aginners with no head for business or just a censorious cast of mind who'll object to honoring a president because he might have, let's say, a checkered past. But they can be safely brushed aside. Commerce and hometown pride come first in these matters.

Yes, the always changing name of a public facility can be awkward. At last report, the official name of Little Rock's airport is now going to be the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, which is quite a mouthful. Presumably other names can be added, or some subtracted, by popular demand in the future. Not to mention historical or commercial pressures.

The names of whole cities and countries have been known to change. Istanbul used to be Constantinople, and St. Petersburg over in Russia is back to being St. Petersburg again after a long disastrous interval as Leningrad. At the moment, whether Stalingrad is still Stalingrad or Volgograd again escapes me. Such are the hazards of nominal fortunes when names change with the political tides.

Some name changes do stick. Julius Caesar renamed a whole month for himself, and we still call it July. More ordinary politicians are content with buildings in their honor. The egotism of politicos, current and ex-, knows no bounds, and neither does the flattery lavished on them by go-getters who can see a profit in it.

I don't anticipate a Jack the Ripper/Guy Fawkes international airport in London any time soon, but tastes are hard to predict. Me, I'd happily support an outsize statue of Sherlock Holmes in his cape and deerstalker hat, accompanied by the ever faithful Dr. Watson, somewhere in Grosvenor Square. Preferably shrouded in London fog. It would be a nice change from solemn monuments to political figures now long since forgotten.

Unfortunately, renamed sites tend to be irony-free zones. So it's probably too much to hope that the newly renamed airport in Little Rock will include an Impeachment Drive.

Man's edifice complex has been out of control at least since the pharaohs, but naming terminals after distinguished politicos won't be entirely satisfying until some archaeologist comes across the remains of an Ozymandias International Airport buried deep in the lone and level sands, as in:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The name change at Little Rock's airport won't be fully satisfying till it is proclaimed on a huge sign as you enter. Maybe it could be bordered by flashing light bulbs, like the billboards in George Bailey's nightmarish vision of Pottersville, which was called Bedford Falls before it was renamed in "It's a Wonderful Life" -- a moralistic little fable about what can happen when a town loses its moral bearings. And decides to make itself over in the image of its most prominent and powerful citizen.

And it is a wonderful life -- if you can just hold on to your sense of humor. Not to mention Mr. Mencken's gift for lèse majesté. Herr Mencken will probably have a memorial bed-and-breakfast with lace curtains named for him in Baltimore someday if there isn't one already. Although a beer parlor might be a more fitting memorial. But any such monument is unlikely. The commissions that authorize these memorials can be remarkably sober types. And iconoclasts usually don't rate public monuments. Just imagine an equestrian statue of Henry Louis Mencken, cigar and all. And laugh.

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