On Thursday, April 11, the New Hampshire Senate will vote on a bill that would limit the naming of state property to people deceased at least two years.
The bill, HB 420, also specifically states that a state highway, bridge, or building may only be named after a person who “made a positive contribution to his or her local community, and/or the state, and/or the nation.”
There would be an exception for state colleges and universities, which might raise funds by naming property after a donor.
The bill passed the House in February.
Supporters of HB 420 argue the bill would prevent a rush to judgment over someone’s contribution to society. They point to examples such as the Russell Senate Office Building in D.C., named after former Senator Richard Brevard Russell, Jr. less than two years after his death in 1971. Russell was a staunch supporter of segregation. Despite various movements to change the building’s name (most recently after Senator John McCain), the Russell name stays.
Several other states and federal agencies prohibit naming property after living persons. For example, the U.S. Postal Service requires a person be deceased at least 10 years before their name appears on a postal facility.
Honoring the living
Opponents of HB 420 argue that there is no compelling reason to limit New Hampshire’s naming rights. Naming can be a great honor and reward for public service. For example, Raymond Wieczorek Drive, the Ruth L. Griffin bridge, and the Raymond S. Burton Scenic Overlook were all named while the honoree was still alive.
Every year, the Legislature considers several naming bills. The Legislature could always change the name of a piece of property if the honoree is no longer worthy.