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Name changes: Willis, Macy’s, U.S. Cellular

Don’t call it Willis

Don’t call it Macy’s

Don’t call it U.S. Cellular

But why?

Don't call it that

Gapers Block sells a five-pack of “Don’t call it that” buttons. The tagline is “Buttons for true Chicagoans.”

To complement this pack, I would like for Gapers Block to release a button pack of “Do call it that.” The buttons would say:

Do call it Willis

Do call it Macy’s

Do call it The Cell

The tagline for these buttons would be, “Buttons for Chicagoans living in 2012.”

I love Gapers Block. It’s a fantastic website I visit every day. Gapers Block’s love for Chicago is also evident in these buttons. However, I would like to present a case why we should call our Chicago institutions by their present names while paying respect to those who wish to use the original names.

I love me some history and I think I have a respect for history. But we also live in the present, so when a building’s name changes I go along with that change. Macy’s bought Marshall Fields. Yes, we love Marshall Fields. But Macy’s owns it now, so if they want to be stupid and throw away this beloved brand, that’s their business. It’s a Macy’s store now. All the products in there are sold by Macy’s. It’s Macy’s. While it the memories and the building may remain Marshall Field’s in our hearts, to continue to call that store Marshall Fields is to deny reality.

Skyscrapers changing names is another contested topic. It’s kinda funny that we name skyscrapers in the first place. Does your house have a name? Your apartment? Nope. But our skyscrapers have a name. There’s a certain unique affection we have for skyscrapers. “Yes, 100-story building, you are so cute and massive, that we will give you a name.”

One of Chicago’s pride and joy the formerly tallest building in the world, the Sears Tower. We have grown to love the name “Sears Tower.” Ironically, we still called it Sears Tower even though Sears Company was no longer in the building. Then when the name changed, we refused to call it by its original name. When someone gets married, don’t we honor the choice someone makes to change their last name? We should also honor the building’s choice when it decides to change it’s name.

Wait. The building itself didn’t choose? Some company that owns the building made that choice? The public likes to think we own our skyscrapers. To a certain degree I agree that we own our skyline. But c’mon, are we so silly and stubborn that if an owner decides to change the name to make some bucks, that we can’t just go along with it? Sears. Willis. Whatever. Just call it Willis. Or you can call it Sears. But just don’t look down on people who call it Willis. That’s the name on the outside of the building now.

And our ballparks. Even more loved than our skyscrapers is our sports teams. We watch our beloved sports teams on tv for hundreds of hours. We spend time in our ballparks with family and friends. Even though we have strong emotional attachments to a location, someone else still determines the name.

Comiskey Park is now US Cellular Field. It’s weird. It’s different. But in this case it’s actually fitting to rename the ballpark, because it should have never been named Comiskey in the first place. The new Comiskey is an imposter of the original stadium. It’s not a revamped stadium. It’s not even a stadium standing in the same spot. It’s a different stadium. It shouldn’t have the same name.

Although one could use the argument that babies are named after someone else in the family. So why not also name the younger ballpark next door as Comiskey? But in 2003 U.S. Cellular bought the naming rights at $68 million over 20 years.

Maybe part of the problem is that we confuse official names with nicknames. Someone can never declare their own nickname. A nickname is always made up by friends and through use, it sticks. I believe we use the same logic for our institutions in Chicago. We love them so dearly, we think of them as nicknames, not official names. But these institutions have official names. We should honor their official name. You can continue to use your own nickname, but don’t get all upset when someone uses the official name.

At some point Wrigley Field’s name might be sold and when it does, that will be like a new marriage contract. So I will honor the new name. Because that’s what it is.

In high school one of my best friends was named Robert Frey, also known as Rob. I knew him as Rob. We ended up going to different colleges and whenever I saw him, I called him Rob. But in college he hated that name Rob. He wanted to be called Bob. While it was very strange to me, I forced myself to change and call him Bob. That is his official name to be called now. Bob. And that’s how I view name changes for stores, skyscrapers, and ballparks. When they want to be named something else, that’s what I call them.

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