Naming Names

Fiorello La Guardia was a great mayor of New York — he even has an airport named after him — but he made some boneheaded errors. Some years after the Sixth Avenue El in Manhattan was razed, La Guardia and the city council decided to rehabilitate the neighborhoods around the thorough-fare, which had become run down from hosting the elevated train. And so, in October 1945, they officially rebranded Sixth Avenue as Avenue of the Americas. City planners must have found the cosmopolitan-sounding name exciting. New York City was emerging as the global capital, on the cusp of the American Century: home to the new United Nations and soaring International Style skyscrapers, a hub of commerce, a dynamo of artistic creativity. But this act of renaming by fiat, against the grain of public opinion, failed spectacularly. A survey ten years later found that, by a margin of 8 to 1,

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