What’s in a Naming Right?

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Chicagoans have been up in arms about the announcement that the 86-year-old Museum of Science and Industry will henceforth be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry. Billionaire Ken Griffin secured that feather for his already plumage-filled cap by donating $125 million to the institution.

I have to admit that my first reaction was to be appalled and to comment, “What an egomaniac!” about Griffin. The founder of hedge fund Citadel already has his name on numerous professorships and other endowments that he has made to various institutions across Chicagoland. Does he really need to see his name plastered on one of Chicago’s venerable cultural landmarks?

But who am I kidding? Naming rights often, if not always, go to their most generous donors.

People get upset about name changes such as the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower or the John Hancock Center to simply 875 North Michigan Avenue. But Sears and John Hancock were both corporate sponsors themselves. Once ownership of the building changed, so did the name. Even our beloved Wrigley Field was named for the chewing gum magnate.

I think it’s just a sense of comfort and nostalgia that makes people unhappy with the name change of a famous landmark. Here in Chicago, I thought there would be riots when Macy’s bought Marshall Field’s and had the audacity to change its branding. But in time people get used to the changes. As Chicago Tribune columnist Christoper Borelli pointed out in a recent op ed piece, our grandchildren will probably think nothing of the new name for the Museum of Science and Industry. (“It could be worse — The Yeezy-Kardashian Museum of Science and Industry,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 4, 2019) They’ll most likely start calling it “the Griffin” or even “the Griff,” Borelli suggests.

So I won’t begrudge Ken Griffin his monument to himself. I just hope some rich donor doesn’t help remodel a famous church and rename it the Donald J. Trump Holy Name Cathedral!