Naming things is hard. This is a land of 11,842 lakes, and a surprisingly large number of them are named Mud.
Renaming things is harder. You would not believe how much paperwork it takes to rename a lake or a park or a building.
So when Red Wing residents were ready for a new name for their new bridge over the Mississippi, they turned to the renaming experts — Minnesota lawmakers.
Those lawmakers turned to do battle with the greatest hurdle to any renaming effort — other Minnesota lawmakers.
For almost six decades, the old bridge along Hwy. 63 between Red Wing and Hager City, Wis., carried Dwight D. Eisenhower’s name.
The former president and supreme Allied commander was there for the Eisenhower Bridge dedication in 1960, and he drew an enormous crowd. When the Minnesota Legislature decided to name a bridge after Eisenhower, they made sure it stayed named.
By state law, every bridge built on this spot must like Ike.
Changing the name means changing the law, and that’s what Red Wing’s state Rep. Barb Haley and state Sen. Michael Goggin set out to do.
Their legislation would rename the span the Bridge of Valor. Community and veterans groups suggested the change, hoping to honor the courage and sacrifice of countless soldiers, police, firefighters and battlefield nurses.
While Haley and Goggin were working to give Minnesota the most metal name ever bestowed on a bridge, other lawmakers were learning the perils of park names.
Your elected representatives weren’t expecting trouble when they set out to dedicate a state park in former Vice President Walter Mondale’s name. It was one of those bipartisan bills that sometimes sail through and make everybody feel Minnesota Nice.
Interstate State Park spans the St. Croix River — one of the waterways preserved by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that Mondale sponsored during his time in the U.S. Senate — and mirrors a similar park on the Wisconsin side of the river. The legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, and state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, would re-christen the Minnesota side Walter F. Mondale State Park.
“For decades, Minnesotans have marveled at its storied history and natural beauty,” Housley said in a statement last week. “It’s only fitting that we renew the spirit of bipartisanship that led to the park’s creation by naming the Minnesota portion of Interstate State Park after its original champion, Walter Mondale.”
Which was all well and good until one former lawmaker reminded everyone that to get something named after you by the Minnesota Legislature, it’s not enough to be good.
You have to be good and dead.
A decade ago, the Legislature decided that it should stop naming things after living people. Mondale, 91, is very much still with us.
“It’s hard to object about such a wonderful person as Walter Mondale,” former state Rep. Phyllis Kahn told the Star Tribune last week, “but the basic premise is, let time be our guide and not rush into this.”
But remember, it’s not enough to be dead. You ought to be good and dead.
(Although good and alive works for me too, honestly.)
If we’d kept to this simple rule, Minneapolis wouldn’t have been stuck for 200 years with a lake named after someone who called slavery a “positive good”; the University of Minnesota wouldn’t be tallying all the campus buildings named after segregationists; and we probably wouldn’t have an international airport terminal named after a Nazi sympathizer.
And yes, it’s a bother to print new campus maps, but if you have four buildings named after administrators who wanted to keep black and Jewish students out of the dorms, that’s four buildings too many.
It took thousands of signatures and years of effort to get John C. Calhoun’s name out of our lake, but Bde Maka Ska is finally clear.
The naming and renaming of lakes and rivers falls to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which is locked in an endless struggle to fix the terrible names we’ve slapped on things over the years.
They renamed both the N-word lakes and all the squaw lakes.
Now they labor to rename all the boring lakes. Because how many Long Lakes and Round Lakes and Mud Lakes does one state really need?
Assistant State Climatologist Pete Boulay, who oversees the long list of Public Waters Name Changes, estimates that Minnesota started with 212 Mud Lakes and in the space of three decades has managed to rename about five of them.
“Mud is still the most popular lake name in Minnesota,” Boulay said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”