The Bare Bodkin

Words and Power

Most American presidents, unless they leave office in disgrace, are honored by having airports, schools, libraries, streets, and even whole cities named after them.  The city of San Francisco has saluted President George W. Bush in a singular way—by naming a sewage-treatment plant after him.

Of course, this reminds us that the city on the Bay has long since made itself a synonym for disgusting vice.  It can hardly insult Bush as much as it has already insulted the great saint for whom it is named.  Few of us pause to reflect on that, and on why it was first called as it still is.

The same might be said of many other American cities that in more pious times were given names of religious significance: Providence, Corpus Christi, San Diego, St. Paul, St. Louis, San Jose (and St. Joseph), Santa Monica, Salem, San Antonio, Santa Fe, St. Augustine, San Pablo, St. Petersburg, San Clemente, San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Sacramento, and many others, right down to Hell (Michigan).

Catholics used to name their children after saints; Protestants, after such Old Testament figures as Aaron and Abraham.  It was also common to name a child in honor of parents, ancestors, relatives, and patriotic heroes.  Today Americans attach little meaning to words and names; hence the amazing profusion of girls named Kimberly, Britney, and Chelsea.  (I don’t know of...

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