In late January, the School Names Advisory Committee of San Francisco’s Board of Education voted six to one to rename 44 of the district’s 121 schools, with the goal of ridding the public sphere of any names that might call to mind racism or sexism. Among the names targeted for replacement: George Washington (owned slaves), Abraham Lincoln (encouraged settlement of the West; authorized mass execution of Sioux warriors), Robert Louis Stevenson (once used the word Japanee instead of Japanese in a poem), and U.S. Senator and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein (it’s complicated).

The committee’s process was short on…


If one of your New Year’s resolutions is naming — or renaming — a company, a product, an organization, or a process, I’m here to help. Yes, you could hire me to do the job. Or you could do it yourself by following these guidelines.

Give yourself time. I’ve disappointed a few would-be clients who expected me to complete a naming project in under an hour, possibly because they’ve been duped by ridiculous articles like this one. Sorry, folks: it takes a lot of hours. Why? Research. Interviews. Legal vetting. …


Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today. …

— Billy Collins, “Nostalgia

Will we ever look back with wistful fondness at 2020, the year of so much loss and loneliness, grief and anguish? I’m willing to bet…


This is a story that began in Oakland, in a neighborhood adjacent to mine, and spread around the Bay Area, up into Canada, and all the way across the Atlantic. It is a story with many key performance indicators of 2020: aggression, fear, suspicion, threats, shaming, displacement, conspiracy theories, a public-space shutdown, and a Change.org petition.

Fittingly enough for this turkey of a year, to use the old vaudeville term for a fiasco, it’s a story about an actual turkey. A three-foot-tall turkey named Gerald.

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This may be Gerald, or it may be a lookalike who just happened to be strutting near the Rose Garden on Grand Avenue — a major urban thoroughfare — in March 2018, when I took his picture from a prudent distance.

Gerald liked to hang out with his avian lady friends at the Morcom Rose Garden


What does it mean to love one’s country?

I’ve wrestled often with that question over the last five years, when my country has seemed at times unlovable and even despicable. I’ve wanted to believe that my fellow citizens were, in spite of everything, truly good at heart, as Anne Frank put it. But it was a challenge.

I didn’t like stewing in sourness and anger. I wanted to revive my sense of hope and my capacity to love. …


Election Day, November 3: A polarizing Republican candidate who has spent much of his adult life heading a family business faces a Democrat who has spent most of his adult life as an elected official. The Republican has been branded as an extremist, a narcissist, and possibly a fascist — none of which deters his fanatical supporters. The Democrat is overshadowed by a glamorous predecessor and tarred by a specious eleventh-hour scandal. In the background — or foreground, depending on your perspective — are widespread racial and youth uprisings that some people suspect are ignited by “Communists” and “anarchists.”

2020…


Back in February, during the Before Time, I wrote about a billboard created by the Lincoln Project, a group of prominent anti-Trump Republicans.

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The New Hampshire billboard

I was not, to put it diplomatically, a fan.

Last week the Lincoln Project made a much bigger splash with a one-minute video, “Mourning in America,” posted online. This week the spot appeared in three key broadcast markets: Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Fort Meyers-Naples, Florida; and the state of Ohio.

The ad looks a lot slicker than the billboard. Its creators claim it took only “a matter of hours” to produce, cost only $5,000, and got 1.5 million views…


First the pool closed, and then the gym, and so, a couple of weeks into the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place directive, I became a walker. I’d walked before, of course, but always with a goal: the movie theater, the post office, the BART station. Now I walked in circles: around the block, around the lake. I counted steps. I checked my pulse. I hated it.

I needed a new goal, and then I discovered it, right at my feet: trash. Piles and streams and sticky mounds of trash.

The area of Oakland in which I live has its charms, but cleanliness…


Diseases leave traces on language, just as they do on the body. Scurvy — the name given in the 16th century to a debilitating ailment caused by lack of vitamin C — was quickly pressed into service as an adjective meaning “worthless.” There was no such thing as an iron lung — the colloquial term for a mechanical respirator — before the polio epidemics of the 20th century.


The very names of such diseases are felt to have a magic power. — Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (1978)

It took six weeks for the World Health Organization to bestow a name on the new viral respiratory disease that emerged in December 2019 in Wuhan, China: COVID-19, an acronym for COronaVIrus Disease 2019. The naming process was slow and deliberate because of WHO disease-naming guidelines released in 2015, which rule out eponyms (diseases named for people, such as Down syndrome or Alzheimer’s disease), place names (such as Lyme disease or West Nile virus), and occupational associations (such as Legionnaire’s…

Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist. Find me on Twitter and Instagram (@fritinancy) and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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