Naming In The News

RI School Board Narrows Down Names for New School

September 18, 2008
By Sheena Dooley

When it comes to the names of its schools, Rock Island has dabbled in it all.

There are two presidents, a painter, an inventor, a couple of famous educators and a former superintendent. There is a local family who was big in the lumber business and an author. And don't forget Ridgewood, the district's only school not named after a person.

With its latest building being named 36 years ago, some consider the names of the district's schools to be so last year.

Today, in some places, it's more common to find schools named after manatees than presidents. Whispering Pines and Diamond View have ousted Jefferson and Washington from the list of likely candidates in certain regions. In fact, New Orleans banned naming schools after Washington or any other former slave owner.


''The general trend is away from naming schools after people and toward naming them after places,'' said Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a research group based in New York City. ''Today's names sound more like they are for herbal teas or day spas. Pleasant names are being chosen rather than people because it involves less conflict.''

It remains to be seen whether that trend will play out in Rock Island, where school board members face a task they have not undertaken in almost four decades: naming a new school.

For four months, a committee of parents, district staff and community members came up with potential names, floated them in the community and whittled the list to five finalists, none of which include the name of a person. Instead, they focus on the history of the property where the school will sit, which housed the Villa de Chantal before it burned down.


The committee's options include: Villa Park, Villa Ridge, Villa Bluff, Villa Del Sol and Villa Creek.

''In the beginning, we decided we were not going to name it after a person,'' said Ruth Ann Tobey-Brown, who will be the school's principal when it opens next year. ''The trend now is to name it after things other than people. We kind of went on that premise. We wanted to remember the past but, also, celebrate the future.''

They recently presented their list to board members, who will have final say over the school's name. Their discussions, so far, have revolved around five options: naming it after a famous person, a president, local person or a place. Also, they are addressing whether they want it to include ''villa.''


Initially, four board members said they might support incorporating a president's name. Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom lived in Illinois, were two possibilities put on the table. Five on the board said they wouldn't oppose naming it after a famous person, maybe an astronaut or scientist. A handful voiced support for looking at using local people, the word ''villa'' and places in the name.

At least one board member, Earl Strupp, said he wants whatever the school is called to reflect the district's minority population.

''Let's get out of the past,'' Strupp said during a recent board meeting. ''I don't like just naming it after nothing. A president? We have enough. Villa? That's the past. I strongly suggest you consider something minority and female that has something possibly to do with education.''


Whatever name the board ultimately picks, it will most likely represent the Rock Island community, said Rick Loy, superintendent.

The board also will have to select something that reflects the district's students, parents and taxpayers, while also representing what the school is about, said William Lozito, president of Strategic Name Development, a Minneapolis-based brand naming company. In addition, it has to be something that lasts.

''Naming a school is like naming a child,'' Greene said. ''It says something about you. When you name a child, they learn something about themselves and what might be important about the name you gave them. A school's name is a teaching opportunity. It both reflects and conveys our values. A good name is a name the community has deliberated on and decided on. The only bad name is the one people have not actively chosen.''


The last building named, by school district

Davenport &mdash Buffalo Elementary School (2001)

Bettendorf &mdash Paul Norton Elementary School (1985)

Pleasant Valley &mdash Riverdale Heights Elementary School (1995)

North Scott &mdash Neil Armstrong Elementary School (1976)

Rock Island-Milan &mdash Earl Hanson and Ridgewood elementary schools (1972)

Moline-Coal Valley &mdash Bicentennial Elementary School (1976)

Most popular school names (and their districts)

Jefferson &mdash (Moline-Coal Valley, Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island-Milan)

Washington &mdash (Davenport, Rock Island, Moline-Coal Valley)

Wilson &mdash (Davenport, Moline-Coal Valley)

Neil Armstrong &mdash (North Scott, Bettendorf)

Grant Wood &mdash (Davenport, Bettendorf)

Herbert Hoover &mdash (Davenport, Bettendorf)

Horace Mann &mdash (Rock Island-Milan, Moline-Coal Valley)

Frances Willard &mdash (Rock Island-Milan, Moline-Coal Valley)

Ridgewood &mdash (East Moline, Rock Island-Milan)

Categories of local school names

Presidents &mdash Adams, Buchanan, Eisenhower, Garfield, Jackson, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Madison, Monroe, Truman, Wilson, Hoover, Roosevelt, Hayes, McKinley

Local names &mdash Earl Hanson, John Deere, Sudlow, Smart, J.B. Young, Wood, Williams

Famous people &mdash Jane Addams, Franklin, Mark Twain, Edison

Astronauts &mdash John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Ed White, Virgil Grissom

Artists &mdash Paul Norton, John Audubon

Famous educators &mdash Horace Mann, Frances Willard

A location or nature &mdash Pleasant View, Riverdale Heights, Cody, Bridgeview