Salt Lake City’s big basketball arena and events center is called the Energy Solutions Arena. Catchy, isn’t it? Turns out that the more successful you are, the more things you can leave your name on. Utah is full of buildings carrying names like Dee, Price, and Huntsman. Those buildings will all be there long after the founders of these family lines have passed on and their third-generation female progeny have found ways to work the patriarchal surname creatively into their own new married names, i.e., “Veruca Huntsman-Swidersky-Huntsman;” “Angelica HINCKLEY(smith).”
It’s a worthy thing to give enough to a museum that they want to put your name on the wall. Even better a hospital or a homeless shelter. But in the end, these are still just buildings, and buildings eventually all fall down. Or even worse, your name gets subdivided, like the erstwhile Rice Stadium at the University of Utah, which received a face lift prior to the Olympics, diluting the Rices’ impact and giving rise to the current Rice-Eccles Stadium. Those poor Rices– all that money they threw in, expecting their names to stand as a monument to their largesse, only to have to share the stage with another bunch of Crimson Club patricians. (And all this for naming rights to the home of a second-rate football team.) Then there is the anonymous alphabet soup of building names spread across the university campuses of the world. BYU buildings like the MARB and the Crabtree building are presumably named after someone, but the glories and achievements of these people are utterly lost to the drowsy students that walk their halls each day, as ancient and irrelevant as Ozymandias. Buildings are okay monuments, but you can do better.
And after you’ve paid all that money, they still go and print ‘Utah’ on the field. Instead of ‘This football game made possible by a generous donation from the Rice and Eccles Families’
Think of Heimlich. He had to invest a little more than some Founders Club donation, but with a little work and deep knowledge of the human diaphragm, he was able to attach himself to an innovative maneuver and secure his place in history. Everyone knows Heimlich, and everyone loves his maneuver. I’d love to have my name attached to a maneuver. (The only guy that ever came close to that kind of success with a gambit was Ivan, of Crazy Ivan fame).
Like with so many other things, the Greeks were the best at memorializing themselves by attaching their names to things. No theorem is as famous as the one made up by Pythagoras, nor is any theoremist as well-remembered. And can you imagine having sole naming rights to all of geometry? Euclid’s coup is exceptionally brazen. You can’t own geometry. And yet, in a sense, he does. We should be talking about Euclidean Chutzpah. Socrates has a method, Hippocrates his oath, and then there’s Plato, with his ideal, his solids, his Republic, and his love. That guy was so good.
The best of them all.
Since the fall of Greece, people have had a harder time taking indelible ownership over abstract concepts. The most seminal breakthrough of the renaissance came from Isaac Newton, who found a way to attach his name to all of physics—a discipline that had existed for centuries before him (and an obvious missed opportunity for Aristotle). By the time Newton stuck his flag in all of physics, there was very little space left for others. Even Einstein could find nothing on which to make his name stick (‘Einsteinian Relativity‘ just never popped).
Probably my second favorite naming rights achievement belongs to Jefferson, who is now inextricably attached to the most successful form of government in history. Can you imagine having democracy named after you? It’s just a phenomenal success in name-sticking. I wish I could pay someone to buy those naming rights.
But after long contemplation, I think there’s one guy at the top of the heap- the one who found the very coolest thing to stick his name to. I would loooove to have an argument-settling conceptual razor attached to my memory. Occam wins.