What's In a Name?

By Darryl Manzer
"Way Back When"
The Signal
Sunday, September 10, 2006

ome readers of this column have said I've not quite written the truth about how Supervisor Mike Antonovich managed to have so many parks and a courthouse named after him. They said it appears I thought Mr. Antonovich went around naming those things all on his own. I wish it were that simple, folks.
    Let me write it here and now. Mr. Antonovich did not, I repeat, DID NOT, ever publicly suggest, coerce, cajole, intimidate or otherwise do anything in a public venue that would have him recommending or in any other way desiring that any of those things be named after him. Period. (I did write "publicly.")
    I've played the "naming game" with folks who hand out the bucks. In 1995, when I moved the research vessel Pacific Escort (IX-517) from California to Norfolk, Va., the local folks didn't like the name — especially the local congressman, the late Norman Sisisky. He thought the name of the ship should be changed to something with a little more identification to the local area.
    So we changed the name to Research Vessel GOSPORT. ("Gosport" was the original name of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which is really in Portsmouth, Va.; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is really in Kittery, Maine).
    Funny how after that happened, funding for the operation of the ship seemed to get through Congress and the various Naval commands. Name it right and you get the money.
    The same goes for the current crop of submarines being built. It is called the "Virginia Class" after the lead ship, USS Virginia (SSN774). The next ship of the class is — you guessed it — USS Texas (SSN775). The USS Hawaii is soon to be completed. The USS Seawolf (SSN21) was followed by the USS Connecticut (SSN22), and then the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN23). (Can't figure out the last name at all; can you?)
    Now the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is — you know it — Sen. John Warner from — you're right — Virginia.
    President Bush is from where? (No, not outer space.) Texas.
    To get the funds to build the subs, they had to name them after something the influential senators and congressmen would like.
    You see, the Navy really doesn't care what you name a ship as long as it gets the funding necessary to build and maintain them. (Though I doubt the USS Bill or Hillary Clinton would be allowed). "We'll call it the Virginia Class, Sen. Warner, just so you approve the spending."
    Of course it is done at a much lower level. Some junior Navy staff member gets told to tell the junior staff member of a politician that the name of something might be "whatever" if the votes go right and BAM — there is a USS George W. Bush (CVN-77) — or a Michael D. Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse or Michael D. Antonovich Open Space or — you get the picture.
    The problem is not that the folks named something for Mr. Antonovich, but that he let them do it. He was doing the job he was elected to do, and he gets his name pasted on all sorts of stuff. He would have been doing his job, too, had he voted to approve 1,000 homes being built on the open space or parks now bearing his name.
    Some would say "the people" picked the names being used on those parks and that courthouse. Well, in the case of the parkland and open space areas, it was, for the most part, the board members of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (an affiliate of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy). They needed the money for more parkland. The Antelope Valley Courthouse was named by a panel of elected judges who, guess what, needed a new courthouse.
    So much for "names selected by the people" theory.
    The right and honorable action that Mr. Antonovich should have taken is a nice "thank you for thinking of me" letter "but I hope you name it after something or someone far more deserving of such an honor" and "please don't put my name on it." That would have been the right and honorable thing to do.
    You see, there is not a "USS Warner" or "USS Frist" or even a "USS Lieberman." Those elected representatives wouldn't allow it. I am surprised that former President Bush (George I) allowed his name to be used for the newest aircraft carrier. I've a feeling that Barbara Bush is still giving him a hard time about letting it occur.
    No, I still hold this lopsided view that our elected representatives at all levels of government should act in "a right and honorable manner." We elect them to work for us — all of us — not just a few special-interest groups that fund their re-election campaigns. Those who don't serve us in that manner with humility shouldn't be in office in the first place.
    As for those of you who like the places and ships named what they are today, all I've got to say is, "I'd agree with you — if you were right."

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley and eventually relocated to Boulder City, Nev. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com. His older commentaries are archived at DManzer.com; his newer commentaries can be accessed [here]. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].