Reflections on the intersection of economics, history, politics, psychology and science

It seems like every public facility – whether it be a building, bridge, airport, school, or park – is named after someone. Naming public things is so common, so accepted as a practice, that we don’t even think about why we do it, let alone debate whether we should or how we should do it. But is it as simple and straightforward a thing to do as we all seem to think? Or are there consequences which should be considered? In this podcast Seth and Mark debate the pros and cons of naming.

In practice, most public facilities are either named after historical figures or someone local who is connected to the community or even the specific facility being named. Also, as a general rule, most facilities are named after people who have passed away, although not always.

Naming facilities after someone is often done with the best of intentions. We like celebrating our fellow citizens, and there arguably are community benefits to doing that, by encouraging people to emulate the community-supporting traits of the person being honored. Names can also be symbolic, representing a community’s stance on issues and values. Also, there may be a connection between the person and the facility itself, or the organization associated with the facility. 

But there are also potential problems with naming. First, because naming opportunities are relatively rare, the “anointing” of a single person may serve to minimize the contribution of others in a community. The process of deciding on a name can also create unnecessary friction within a community. And lastly, there are plenty of instances of “buyers remorse” when we view someone in hindsight through a different historical lens or if some new, negative, information emerges in the future about someone who was honored.

For Mark, naming is a proper discussion for a community and its elected representatives to have, because, despite the risks, there are benefits to the community from recognizing individuals, if done the right way. Seth sees this as merely a political exercise with lots of downside and little upside with the potential to create headaches, distract the community away from more important issues, and subject to mere coincidence of timing and the whims of the specific people in charge at that time.

In reacting to each other’s perspectives, Mark and Seth discuss the practical implications of going through this process and offer some suggestions for potentially maximizing the benefits and minimizing the downsides of naming. They also discuss how to frame these issues differently if money is involved!


Conservatism, Externality, Perfect Information, Representative Democracy, Risk, Tautological Externality


The Problem With Naming