Opening Letters

Taking Time to Give Names

I have this little bad habit that might benefit Eau Claire

Rob Reid, illustrated by Luke Benson |

I just planted Crosby, Stills, and Nash in the ground.

No, not the rock singers. They’re still alive and well.

I’m referring to the new clump of three young birch trees in our yard.

We name our trees.

It all started with an old friend, David Stoeri, a former Wisconsin children’s performer (yes, Stoeri was a storyteller). He named everything around him and he made interesting connections to coin those names. His first wireless microphone was Rover, because it allowed David to “rove” or roam freely around the stage. He had two garages on his property. The one by the alley behind his house was named Aussie, because it was “out back.” (You clever folks, please connect-the-dots for your slower colleagues).

Anyways, I liked the way David thought and named my cars in a similar fashion. Over the years, my wife Jayne (with a “y”) and I have owned:

Vanna Gray,

Louis (a Dodge Ram = St. Louis Rams),

Catbutt (a Toyota Camry that featured a raised-up trunk, like a cat stretching. This car is also known as Yota. Just because.),

Norah (a Toyota Rav4 = Ravi Shankar, Norah Jones’s father), and

Clifford the Big Red Van (chosen by former colleague Cindy Westphal when reminding me I used to be a children’s librarian).

Back to the trees. We live on a small lot on the East Side Hill. My wife and I have planted a fair number of trees on our property. We used to have two boulevard maple trees, Paul and Cindy, because our neighbors, Paul and Cindy, gave them to us. The city took them down when they tore up our street but replaced them with a nice new elm. We call it Dr. Chuck. We live on Hogeboom Avenue, so I went to the Eau Claire library and asked the reference staff to tell me everything about Hogeboom. Charles Hogeboom was a doctor. There ya go.   

Also, in the front yard is Thunder Child. I’m afraid we weren’t too creative coming up with this name because this variety of crab apple tree is indeed called Thunderchild. Hey, when a good name drops in your lap, swallow your creative pride and embrace it.

We have a dwarf crab apple by the house. This one was easy because I’m a fan of the Lord of the Rings books and movies and I enjoy watching Gimli (a dwarf, you non-LOTRers). I would have considered naming the tree John Rhys-Davies, after the actor who played Gimli, but that would be plain silly.

Alongside the house, one can find Beulah and Rocky – both Colorado spruce. We used to live in Colorado not too far from Beulah and, of course, there’s a little something called the Rocky Mountains running down the middle of the state.
Next to them is a locust tree named Caine. Locust = grasshopper = Kung Fu TV show = Grasshopper, nickname of the character, Caine. Some of the best names have that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing going on.

Eau Claire itself has a cool, exotic name. The old white founding dudes could have called it Clearwater or Sawdust City or Sawdust Falls or Sawdust Mound or Piles O’ Sawdust but they went with the international, exotic flair. Eau Claire…très cool.

However, the citizens in charge of this hip town seem to miss the boat on naming its structures and parks with equally cool appellations. A few years back, a committee of townspeople came up with a clever tie to history to name the new school replacing Boyd Elementary. The school sits near a site formerly known as Plank Hill (planks were placed so horses didn’t have to trudge through sand) and presented that name. Unfortunately, the school board at the time was too attached to the time-honored habit of naming things after white males and selected the name of a former white male school board president.

Besides white males, things around here also get dubbed after generic geographical features. Meadowview School was named after, well, a view of a meadow, apparently (where that meadow currently is, I don’t know). I remember local radio hosts George House and John Murphy at the time suggesting the Murphy House of Learning. Why weren’t they in charge?

Another missed opportunity came last month when UW-Eau Claire announced the new education building will be called (drum roll) Centennial Hall. The university’s centennial will take place two years after the building opens, so 98th Hall is more accurate. Centennial Hall is, well … a yawner, at best. I’m not sure why my suggestion was not chosen. I think departing interim chancellor Gilles Bousquet (who has the coolest name of any chancellor ever) missed the boat by not selecting Reid’s Reading Roost.

Let’s take that old David Stoeri creative process to think of a better name than Centennial Hall. Education building = education = getting smarter = better minds = A Beautiful Mind, the movie = Russell Crowe, an actor in A Beautiful Mind = roles by Crowe = L.A. Confidential is his highest rated movie according to RottenTomatoes = Bud White, his character in L.A. Confidential = TA DA!: the Bud White Hall.

Oops, another white male. OK, take a slightly different track with this system to see what you come up with and post it to V1’s website link to this article. And then let’s use this method when naming future Eau Claire buildings, parks, and streets.

Finally, I forgot to mention our last tree. Once we got Crosby, Stills, and Nash, I renamed the red maple in the backyard from Red (I was sick that day) to Young Neil (a reference you Scott Pilgrim fans will pick up). Young Neil is much bigger than Crosby, Stills, and Nash, same as in real life.