"What's in a name? A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet," according to Juliet. But she wasn't too bright, remember? She was a teen-age hysteric who trusted a daffy nun and an old monk with her personal business, and look where it got her.
Names are words, and as such the impact they have can be enormous, because appearances count, even aural ones. Ask Marilyn Manson, who would still be playing in his buddies' garage if he'd kept the name Bryan Warner. Ask someone named Adolf, if you can find someone named Adolf. What's in a name can be success or failure.
Or ask Bette E. Landman, president of Beaver College. No, I didn't fall asleep watching a "Porky's" marathon; there really is such a place, although maybe not for long. Beaver College is thinking about changing its name, which when punched in to search engines triggers some Internet filters and blocks their e-mail, thereby preventing some people from accessing the college's website. The Associated Press reports that Landman recently wrote a letter to students, alumni and other concerned parties, copping to the fact that "beaver" is a word that "elicits ridicule" as a "vulgar reference to the female anatomy." She prefaced this with the notion that this ridicule also comes in the form of reference to the dam-building mammal and "Leave It to Beaver," as though anyone really teases the students of Beaver College over these things. One can imagine poor Bette feeling she had to cushion the blow somehow, though. It can't be easy to come so far in life as to be a college president, only to find yourself having to tap dance around slang for a woman's crotch.
Beaver College definitely earns honors for this action. It's refreshing to see someone drop a pretense with such an audible thud. Being able to give up defending the name "Beaver College" must be like peeling your size 12 self out of those size 8 jeans you wormed your way into; the relief is palpable. At least it's not an all-girls school. Can you imagine telling anyone you're majoring in women's studies at Beaver?
This transformation provides a good example for other people and places with names that are embarrassing, if not for them, then for the rest of us.
Why, for example, in this day and age, are there still guys who call themselves Dick? Dick, for those of you who have been living in an episode of "7th Heaven," is a vulgar reference to the male anatomy. It's less often followed with a last name than preceded by "stupid," "what a" or a command for the use thereof.
It's not like these guys come from another country, arriving with a name like Dong, without having any idea of its meaning. If you are the product of an American high school, you know Dick. So if you're a Richard, why not be a Richard, a Rich or a Rick, instead of making your cohorts, who probably like you very much, feel like they're calling you a bad name every time they shout at you from across the room? (If your name is Dick and you work for Beaver College, do you get to leave phone messages for people that say, "Have them call Beaver and ask for Dick"?) I know I can expect angry e-mail from guys with that name who disagree with me, but then you know what I will be able to tell my editor? "Yeah, I got some mail, but it was from a buncha Dicks."
Beaver College is in Pennsylvania, a state where, in the Amish area, there also exist towns named Intercourse and Blue Ball. Now come on. They're Amish, not stupid. They have to be aware of the discomfort/giggle factor that occurs every time the name of their town is mentioned. Ditto Flushing, N.Y. How come no one in these places has, like Beaver College, said, "Look, this name is just not what it might have been at one time. Anyone for Toiletsville?" At least in Florida our place names -- Ichetucknee, Withlacoochee, Fakahatchee, Homosassa -- only sound like they might mean something embarrassing. You're not actually going to come across an Itchycoochie or a Clammycojone. Not on a map, anyway.
Shallow people are supposed to be the ones concerned with appearances. Actually, we all think about them. Beaver proves that just because you got stuck with an unfortunate moniker doesn't mean you have to keep it. But hopefully they won't go through all this and then go change it to something like Sugar Bush College, Coochie U. or the University of Bathing Suit Parts, no matter how much I'd love to read about a team called the Fighting Poontang.