Apparently during the current economic upheaval, names are the easiest things to pawn off. New York City got $4 million by allowing Barclays to put its name on a few subway stations. Ohio State University named its new student union after U.S. Bancorp in return for $1 million. Lansing, Mich., recently collected $1.5 million from a law school to name its minor-league baseball park Cooley Law School Stadium. The zoo in Columbia, S.C., desperate for cash, even auctioned off naming rights to a baby giraffe.
But in what must be 2010's boldest naming ploy to date, the city of Topeka, Kansas, changed its name to Google. Seems the deciders at Google are looking for a community in which to test ultra high-speed Internet service, and Topeka hopes to woo the business by adopting the Google name for the month of March.
What's next? Could taxpayers save some money if the nation's capital were renamed AIG, D.C.?
This form of crass commercialism isn't new. Every June, Dublin, Texas, changes its name to Dr. Pepper to commemorate the nation's first Dr. Pepper bottling facility located there. The town of Clark, Texas, changed its name to Dish, so that residents could all get free satellite TV.
Much of the blame for commercially motivated renaming goes to the town fathers in Derry Church, Pa., who in 1906 became so overwhelmed with gratitude for the success of the local chocolate factory that they renamed the town Hershey.
One hundred years later, Washington, Pa., temporarily renamed itself Steeler, Pa., when the NFL Steelers won the Super Bowl. Odder still was the decision by Ismay, Montana, in 1993 to officially change its name to Joe, Montana (after the star quarterback).
The concept isn't even new in Topeka, which prior to becoming Google had temporarily changed its name to ToPikachu after the Pokemon character.
And Google, Kansas, isn't the first example of digital-age name switching. Halfway, Ore., renamed itself Half.com in 1999, after the e-commerce site owned by eBay, in return for school computers and $100,000 cash.
Once upon a time companies didn't have to bother paying for naming rights, they simply picked a city they liked and commandeered the name. The famous fig cookie firm did that with Newton, Mass.; the GM people did it with Pontiac, Mich.
There are still plenty of existing towns to which American organizations might wish to relocate based on their unique names. There's Boring, Ore., which would probably be thrilled to become the site of new studios for NBC. There's Looneyville, Texas, which could house national headquarters for the Tea Party movement.
Why has the IRS overlooked the opportunity to relocate to Needmore, Texas? Shouldn't the Pentagon be in Gayville, South Dakota? A fitting home for the U.S. Congress would be Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
If I'd had the time to relocate myself, I probably should have filed this column from Embarrass, Minnesota.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, the Google bandwagon seems to have rolled over not only Topeka but the entire county of Shawnee, where commissioners are now considering renaming a sports facility the Google Recreational Building, and a local park Google Gardens.
If, after all this, the Google company decides against setting up shop in Kansas, Topeka can always rename itself Dumburg, Crasstown, Desperation Station - or, perhaps most appropriately, Almighty Buckville, USA.
© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.