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Afrika Green, of Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives, asks 'what's in a name?'

Back in February 2021, Greene King held a public poll with a choice of names to replace the Black Boy pub. There were polarised views on the name change – some felt the pub had a moral obligation to change it while others felt there was nothing wrong with the original name.

After consultion, the conclusion was they couldn’t be certain of its origins. Possibilities included that it was a nickname for King Charles II or a reference to Black figures placed outside of tobacconist and confectionary shops.

But beyond the need to change it for political correctness I wondered, what else does a name change mean? And is it important to remember the original names of places?

Afrika Green, of BSE4BL
Afrika Green, of BSE4BL

I spoke to the Rev Simon Harvey, vicar of the parishes St Mary’s and St Peter’s, in Bury St Edmunds, after I noticed their community centre adjacent to St Peter’s Church, in Hospital Road is now called The Thomas Clarkson Centre. He said they changed the name in October of last year – but the decision wasn’t influenced by Greene King. Thomas Clarkson attended church at St Mary’s and the parish felt it was appropriate to name the centre after him because of his philanthropy and anti-racism stance – they wanted the centre to be open and welcoming to all.

The centre was formerly known as the Hyndman Centre, named after a patron who funded the vicars. But not only did the name have no links to Bury, the parish later found that the family name had links to the slave trade in the West Indies, which also prompted the change. I thought it was brave and honest to recognise the history. It shows awareness and a level of empathy for others in the community and it was refreshing to see that it was well thought out instead of a way to evade backlash or cover up the truth.

Sometimes, change does occur after extensive lobbying and protest and name changes can be an example of Conflict Perspective, a theory coined by German philosopher Karl Marx to describe how society slowly adapts and changes over time through conflicting views and competition from societal groups. This in itself is a catalyst for change.

New name . . . the Thoms Clarkson Centre
New name . . . the Thoms Clarkson Centre

In 1994, 42 years after it was formed, Scope became the new name of The Spastic Society after executive council member Valerie Lang noted that parents would not seek help because of the derogative meaning ‘spastic’ held in society.

Mencap also changed its name from The National Association of Parents of Backward Children.

The neutrality of the names was a way of trying to prevent them from being turned into a derogative term. A shift from names that label a group of people to more neutral names helps separate a person from their impairment. When big changes like this occur ,both locally and nationally, where things that were once commonplace are outdated and modernised, I often hear the phrase ‘this is political correctness gone mad’. Some feel it’s a type of societal censorship, but I think we are now hearing more from marginalised groups and are choosing to listen and willing to take on board how they perceive things.

I believe we are raising the standards of acceptable social interactions with one other. I don’t think it has anything to do with the threshold for what is considered politically incorrect being lowered. I think phrases like ‘snowflake’ not only paints individuals from marginalised groups as oversensitive but puts the onus on them to adapt and accept maltreatment.

For venues such as community centres and pubs, a name change may invite new faces and diversify the clientele, as well as showing that the establishment and the owners are taking their time to consider potential customers. I think name changes should prompt the question why? And make us question what it could do for others.

Insta: @affygreen

Facebook: @Afrikagreen

BSE4BL socials: @BSE4BL