Over at the Minnesota Local History Blog, the folks from Historic Murphy’s Landing, a living history museum in a county park in the Twin Cities metro, are discussing their recent decision to change the site’s name.  The board had approved changing the name to “The Landing,” but have since decided to take a different tack.

The names under consideration are: 

  • Minnesota River History Park
  • Minnesota River Historic Park
  • Minnesota River Historical Park
  • Minnesota River Heritage Park

The name should:

  • be inclusive of all aspects and time periods of the site.
  • not emphasize the Euro-American aspects of the site.
  • be easily related to the Minnesota River, a constant theme for the site.
  • reflect the mission statement.
  • be easily remembered and evocative of the site.
  • be attractive to the public imagination.
  • be unique to the market place.

I find this totally fascinating.  At my small museum, changing our name was as simple as telling everyone what the new name was, and the name was changed mostly for consistency (are we a history museum or a historical museum?).  Here, the park board has a naming policy and very specific criteria for the site’s name, and we get a peek into how the renaming of a history site can happen.  I’m not quite sure why they’re changing their name, though.  Is this a part of a new branding campaign?  A new development campaign?  A reorganization of the park district (which changed its name from Hennepin Parks just a few years ago)?  To get rid of colonial implications in the name “Murphy’s Landing,” suggesting perhaps that the place has only been important since white folks landed on the banks of the Minnesota River?  This is a big decision, especially with a place that’s been around for forty years and has name recognition in the area. 

Questions involved in parsing out the particular form the new name will have are also interesting.  Murphy’s Landing seems set to become Minnesota River ____ Park, but what are the different shadings of history v. historic v. historical v. heritage? 

Also, I think living history museums also have a naming problem that other small historical organizations don’t.  The Whatever County Historical Society is a pretty recognizable formula for a small local history museum, as is the Municipality History Museum.  But living history museums don’t always call themselves “living history museums”  They generally rely on signifiers such as “village” or “farm” or “pioneer life” and so on.  (My friend Josh recently described Connor Prairie to me as “one of those places where you can learn blacksmithing.”) 

Unfortunately, neither “Historic Murphy’s Landing” nor “Minnesota River History Park” has any living history connotations.  “Minnesota River History Park” also sounds a little generic, as if it were a nice place for a picnic on the river with maybe a historic marker (and “heritage” is even more generic).  “Historic Murphy’s Landing” is interesting and unusual, even though it doesn’t jump out and say “living history” either.  It’s too bad the river has the same name as the state, too, because that means that “river” has to be in the name of the site.    “Minnesota River Living History Museum”?  “The Landing River History Park”?  I admit that I’m stumped for a good name myself, but this transparency in the naming process is really admirable.  Good luck, whatever you call yourselves!