Why Are the Names of Some Places Changing? 

This lake was originally known as Bde Maka Ska. The US government named it Lake Calhoun in the 1800s. Now, it is called Bde Maka Ska again. Its name changes show how what we name things reflects our values.

Names are important and have meanings. They help tell others who we are. Names also help us identify places and things. How we name places can tell others what we value and believe. Recently, we have been re-examining our values. This has led to names changes in everything from lakes to military bases to sports teams. 

Bde Maka Ska 

Long before Europeans settled in the area, the Dakota people lived in the lands surrounding Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The name, Bde Maka Ska, means “White Earth Lake” or “White Bank Lake” in the Dakota language. In 1817, a US Army group happened upon the lake. They renamed it after then Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. Secretary Calhoun was known to be a White supremacist. He supported slavery. Over the next 200 years, the lake and surrounding park areas became a popular vacation spot. Residents in Minneapolis questioned if they should name a lake after someone with Calhoun’s ideals. In 2017, the Minneapolis Park Board voted unanimously to honor the Dakota people by restoring the original name of the lake. On May 13, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the name change. 

Fort Liberty (and Beyond) 

A well-known United States military base recently received a new name. Fort Liberty was once known as Fort Bragg. It was renamed during an official ceremony. Located in North Carolina, the military base was originally named after a US Civil War Confederate general. Many military bases, ships, and streets in the US are currently named after Confederate leaders. To many Americans, the Confederacy represents the enslavement and oppression of African Americans.  People are questioning why we celebrate people with these values. Fort Liberty is one of nine army sites for which Congress has recommended name changes. 

Cleveland Guardians 

Cleveland, Ohio’s Major League Baseball team has a new name. The baseball team, formerly called the Cleveland Indians, has been rechristened as the Cleveland Guardians. The previous name and mascot (Chief Wahoo) had been sources of controversy. Many people described both as racist and insensitive to Native Americans. The Guardians name pays tribute to the Guardians of Traffic statues near Progressive Field in Cleveland. These statues have stood on both sides of the Hope Memorial Bridge since 1932. They represent “the spirit of progress in transportation.” Paul Dolan is the Cleveland Guardian’s owner. He hopes the name Guardians helps “unify our fans and city.” Perhaps critics and fans can agree that the team’s name change represents another kind of progress.  

What Do You Think? Look at the names of places in your community? What values do you think they show?  

Photo Credit: Steve Skjold/Alamy Stock Photo