CHICAGO (AIP) – Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s alma mater Wheaton College, a liberal arts Christian school near Chicago, has removed his name from the college’s center for Economics, Government and Public Policy, proving once again that naming things after living people can be a real mistake.
“Historically, it’s never good to name buildings, schools, organizations or medical facilities after anyone still alive,” said Harvard historian Dr. Michael Burke. “Probably the classic example is that unfortunate Lee Harvey Oswald Middle School in Arlington, Texas that scrambled to rename itself John Connally Junior High after that unpleasantness in Dealy Plaza in November of 1963.
“The local school board there really dropped the ball on that one.”
Burke said that there’s a long history of similar mistakes.
“The living can go sideways on you at any time,” said Burke. “The John Wilkes Booth Trauma Center outside Washington, The Ted Bundy Foundation for the Performing Arts in Gainesville, Florida and Joseph Stalin Vocational School in Virginia are just a few examples. There have been a lot of bad naming choices.”
It isn’t always major public institutions that find themselves named after someone who later becomes infamous.
“There was that small restaurant outside Los Angeles that had to change its name from the Manson Family Diner after the Tate-Labianca situation,” said Burke. “At the same time the Squeaky Fromme Montessori School in Glendale had to rename itself.”
Occasionally, according to Burke, naming an institution after someone still alive seems almost prophetic.
“In the late 1970’s no one at the Penn State could understand why they named a new medical research center the Jerry Sandusky School for Sodomy Studies,” said Burke. “In retrospect, however, it seems to have worked out nicely.”