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The County Formerly Known As...
June 17, 2009 11:06 PM   Subscribe

Is there a word or term that expresses the following concept more accurately than "rename"?

In 1987, when I moved to Seattle, King County was named after William R. King.

Then, according to Wikipedia;

On February 24, 1986, the King County Council passed Council Motion 6461, "setting forth the historical basis for the 'renaming' of King County in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.". Because only the state can charter counties, this change was not made official until April 19, 2005, when Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed Senate Bill 5332 into law.

Note that Wikipedia uses the term "renaming" to refer to this process. As you see it's in quotation marks, which leads me to believe that the author of the entry was unsure of what to call this transformation.

Looking to the OED entry for "rename" we find;

trans. To name again; esp. to give another or new name to.

But what's going on with King County is that the name is the same, but that to which it refers is changed.

So my question is this: Is there a word or term for this unique linguistic "meaning reassignment"?

I recognize that specificity of definition, especially in the sciences, evolves over time, but the case of King County seems more uniquely clear-cut.
posted by Tube to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have linguistic expertise, but I might call it reframing or rebranding. However, if you think about it as formerly (William R.) King County, and currently (R. D. M. L.) King County, it's easier to see it as a renaming.
posted by emilyd22222 at 11:10 PM on June 17, 2009


The designation changed. The King County name was re-designated to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:23 PM on June 17, 2009


Seconding redesignation, or perhaps reassignation / reassignment.
posted by holgate at 11:33 PM on June 17, 2009


Rechristen.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:38 PM on June 17, 2009


My first thought was 'rechristen', but I think 'rededicate' is closer to the mark.
posted by Gyan at 11:44 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rededication.
posted by pompomtom at 12:00 AM on June 18, 2009


I'd hesitate to say redesignate, because designate is really just a longer word for name.

Although the following word is fraught with historical currency, I'd say reappropropration would be the best term.

After all, the name wasn't changed; the meaning was.
posted by trotter at 12:15 AM on June 18, 2009


Resignification?

They changed the signifier (King) to refer to a different signified (RDML King, instead of William R King)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:17 AM on June 18, 2009


Rededication.
posted by MadamM at 12:33 AM on June 18, 2009


Revised, recensed, rechartered, recoined, redrafted, reenacted, reforged, reformed, refounded, reincited, reinspirited, remarqued, remeded, renewed, repassaged, replaced.
posted by Muirwylde at 12:49 AM on June 18, 2009


No. Renaming is the most accurate term.

Note that Wikipedia uses the term "renaming" to refer to this process. As you see it's in quotation marks, which leads me to believe that the author of the entry was unsure of what to call this transformation.

It looks like the quotes around 'renaming' are in the text of the council motion.
posted by yath at 1:18 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tube: what's going on with King County is that the name is the same, but that to which it refers is changed…So my question is this: Is there a word or term for this unique linguistic "meaning reassignment"?

No. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there is no English word meaning “to rename something with the same name merely in order to change the thing to which that name refers.”

And, contrary to what askers here on Ask.Metafilter seem to think, there is not a special word for every little notion that pops into your head. What exactly were you hoping for? A way to briefly refer to the case at hand? If so, I recommend two things: (a) just say to people “oh, well, they didn't really rename the County, they just changed what they meant by the name;” and (b) some sort of meditation regime to relax your thinking, slow you down, and alleviate the impatience you seem to feel at having to say twenty words or so to describe a conception you have. If, however, what you're looking for is a search term so that you can hit Google and try to learn more about this interesting phenomenon, then I salute your inquisitivity; it's good to want to learn about these things. However, I advise you that many of these little conceptions of everyday life are not really considered carefully enough to be named. Also, consider psychology and philosophy if you'd like to think more about what renaming means.

Finally, since I have in me a burdensome spirit which demands of me the hideous and painful remittance of actually answering these questions, I guess you could come up with a phrase to designate this circumstance. Maybe something like “meaning reassignment” or “reference adjustment” or maybe (leaning towards Plato) “formal shifting.”
posted by koeselitz at 1:47 AM on June 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


I advise you that many of these little conceptions of everyday life are not really considered carefully enough to be named.

I disagree almost completely. The question is pretty esoteric, but it also asks—if not outrightly, then at least implicitly—questions of the divide between an object and that object's name or designation; the explicit purpose of historical revision; and, like you mentioned, the outer limits of language itself.

That the English lexicon has no perfect word for the replacement of a name's preceding cause—the object for which the name serves to symbolize—while that name remains the same should act not as a reason to give up on language, but to wonder at the ineffable.

Also, you said:

There is not a special word for every little notion that pops into your head

Eesh. This isn't the place.
posted by trotter at 3:30 AM on June 18, 2009


there is not a special word for every little notion that pops into your head.

gliasbix?
posted by rdr at 3:46 AM on June 18, 2009


Homophone.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 4:30 AM on June 18, 2009


trotter, I appreciate your positive feedback.

For what it's worth, trust me, I have no political, racial, or social subtext or agenda regarding this question. Every day to and from work I cross Martin Luther King Junior Way. It used to be called "Empire Way". That is an obvious re-naming. There used to be a bar on the corner of Orcas and MLK called the "Empire Way Tavern". They managed to get an actual "Empire Way" street sign to use as their own. They kept their business name even after the street name changed. The bar is no longer there.

As you can see by the Wikipedia entry, King County is now using the MLK logo in an official capacity. I see it around town now. I knew the back story of both the street name change and the county name change, and I realized that from a linguistic standpoint there was a difference, hence my esoteric question.
posted by Tube at 6:26 AM on June 18, 2009


I would say rededicate or redesignate (which does mean name, essentially, but with a sort of intimation of "assignment" that works here.)

koeselitz, duuuude, perhaps take a few steps back and practice that meditation regime?
posted by desuetude at 6:35 AM on June 18, 2009


I would go along with "rededicate" here, although this instance reminds me a little of the term used by SF fans, retcon, for retroactive continuity.

Not that I think there's anything wrong with this rededication. In my family, we had a similar instance with a cat we adopted off the street: we thought it was a female when we took it in, and named it Dolly. We later learned it was male, and renamed him Dali (or more accurately, adopted a different spelling for the same name).
posted by adamrice at 7:27 AM on June 18, 2009


koeselitz seemed to really be enjoying belittling the OP for having the audacity to think such a term might exist, and I don't really understand why. If your hope is to discourage this kind of question in the future, do I get to vote that I enjoy this type of question?

What you are referring to deals with indexicality. This is a bit different from the notion of "meaning reassignment", because what is really fundamentally going on here is the reassignment of a referent, rather than the meaning.

Other terms you might want to look at:

- reference
- intensional logic
posted by kosmonaut at 7:30 AM on June 18, 2009


I would describe this as "retconning the name" if I were writing about it, because it seems to me the most apt description of what's going on--taking the existing name and ascribing new qualities to it ex post facto strikes me as a lot like taking Superman and ascribing new backstories to him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:34 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think "reassignment" is the appropriate term here. It took the phrase King County and had it refer to Martin Luther King instead of William R. King. The function of the phrase has changed, which makes reassign the right word.
posted by Kattullus at 9:38 AM on June 18, 2009


Hey everybody: no derail, just a tiny “I'm sorry” for my dickish comment above; it wasn't very nice. Carry on.
posted by koeselitz at 11:27 AM on June 18, 2009


I don't think of it as a "retcon" since the county doesn't have the position that they've always been named after MLK. That is, there's nothing retroactive about it. It's awfully reminiscent of a comic-book retcon, but I think it's missing that essential element.
posted by hattifattener at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2009


On second thought, reascribed or reattributed are better fits. Reassigned, to me, has the connotation of changing the location to which the name is connected, not its inspiration.
posted by Gyan at 7:13 PM on June 19, 2009


And, contrary to what askers here on Ask.Metafilter seem to think, there is not a special word for every little notion that pops into your head.

It's true that there can't be a word for every conceivable concept.

There are, however, words for far, far more things than most people would imagine. If you doubt it, I recommend Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,370 Pages. The author did exactly what the title suggests, and highlights some of his favorite words, defining things you would not have thought there was a word for. There are words for "a person who accepts bribes from both sides" (ambidexter), "the warmth of the sun in winter" (apricity), "a person who is learned in the art of dining" (deipnosophist), "to restore or renovate an ancient building with excessive spending rather than with skill" (grimthorpe), and "the friendship between people who are not equals in intelligence or status" (microphily), among many many others.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:44 PM on July 5, 2009


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