Have you ever gone on vacation to a new city or town and realized that there were buildings, streets, or parks that all seem to have the same names as places you know back home? Are the honored people that influential, or are these towns just unoriginal? Keep in mind, this is a tongue-in-cheek article, and we’re not advocating for removing anyone’s name from the side of a building or street sign. So, even though we may take an honest look at some of the people listed, we hope you won’t be offended!
Seriously, there are streets, towns, buildings, and monuments across the country dedicated to the Italian explorer who sailed under the Spanish flag. He’s often credited with "discovering" America, although he never really got farther than the West Indies. And once you get past the simplistic history lessons taught in elementary school, Columbus’ actions while in the “New World” and his overall legacy are quite problematic. So, why are there countless spaces dedicated to a man who — more or less — took a wrong turn and lucked out anyway? We’ll tell you why.
It’s been in only the last century that Christopher Columbus went from being a somewhat obscure explorer to reaching revered status in the United States. Once upon a time in the U.S., Italian immigrants weren’t well received. And after constant attacks on their immigrant communities, local Italian American leaders decided to change perceptions about their cultural enclave. In short, they lobbied to promote Christopher Columbus — and his Italian ancestry — through simple ways. One of the earliest examples is the Christopher Columbus statue gifted to the city of New York that still stands today in the aptly-named Columbus Circle near Central Park South. In short, through Christopher Columbus, Italian immigrants proved that they had just as much of a claim to this land as anyone else.
John F. Kennedy
It’s not unusual to have buildings, public spaces, and other edifices named after presidents. And the “why” of John F. Kennedy’s name being saturated across the country shouldn’t need to be asked. Regardless of your political affiliations, it’s safe to say that JFK was a president who didn’t run away from controversy if he felt he could effect change. The late president served as a naval officer during World War II before returning home and serving as a member of the House of Representatives for Massachusetts’s 11th district and then later running and winning a seat as a senator for his home state.
Eventually, he went on to run and win the presidency in 1960 at the age of 43, making him the nation’s youngest president ever elected. Sadly, he also holds the title of the youngest president to leave office as he was assassinated three years into his first term, at 46 years old. Considering the amount of influence JFK had and continues to have over international relations, civil rights, the office of the president, and creating a relatable presidential persona, we don’t know if we’d say that he has “too many” places named after him with any level of seriousness.
Once again, we’re talking presidents, and yes, again, it’s a president who was assassinated. From the State of Illinois printing “the Land of Lincoln” on its license plates to the popular vintage toy Lincoln Logs, it’s safe to say that American presidents who were struck down during their tenure are often memorialized. But the austere and imposing Abraham Lincoln also followed a path somewhat similar to JFK’s. The lawyer was a military veteran, although unlike John F. Kennedy, Lincoln never saw combat. He continued to serve in Congress between 1847 and 1849 as a member of the House of Representatives for the 7th District of Illinois.
Eleven years later, he became the 16th president of the United States and had the unlucky opportunity to preside during the nation’s Civil War. The wartime president was inaugurated almost a month before the Civil War began in 1861 and was assassinated by a disgruntled Southern loyalist a few days after the war concluded in 1865. And much like JFK, his assassination occurred in a public place.
Considering the legacy that these icons left behind, it makes sense that they’d be popular choices for names. Their individual contributions to American history may be contentious at times, but it’s unarguable how significant they are to our country’s culture.