What's in a name? Shakespeare said, a rose "by any other name would smell as sweet." So why is a good old boy in Taos, N.M., in so much trouble for trying to give some of his more ethnic employees new and improved names? Even though he is in a tourist town where Hispanic heritage is part of the draw, inn owner Larry Whitten decided he didn't want potential guests to be put off by foreign-sounding names.
What's in a name?
Shakespeare said, a rose "by any other name would smell as sweet."
So why is a good old boy in Taos, N.M., in so much trouble for trying to give some of his more ethnic employees new and improved names?
When Larry Whitten brought his years of experience to the Paragon Inn this summer, he was ready to make changes to replicate the success he has had at hotels and motels across the southwest United States.
Even though he is in a tourist town where Hispanic heritage is part of the draw, Whitten decided he didn't want potential guests to be put off by foreign sounding names.
So the 63-year-old ex-military man started to make some changes.
So "Mar-TEEN" became merely Martin and Marcos became Mark.
I have some experience with name changes for employees. We had fun with that in the newsroom of my hometown newspaper.
We had a part-time assistant we never referred to by her name. She was Skipper. I'm sure there was a reason we called Rebecca, "Skipper" but it wasn't because Rebecca sounded too ethnic.
We had another employee we called Twister because he fancied himself a storm chaser. Then there was "new girl." We called her that for so long, I can't remember her real name now. I also had Jenese who was my right hand woman for five years. She was always Jenese until she started helping run the show. Her matronly style led to her name change and she became Eunice.
I'm pretty sure I would be less than flattered by some of the private nicknames they had for me, as well. Mostly, they called me "Boss" or "KB" -- but I bet there were times when it got more creative.
Even though we had nicknames for internal use, we never changed our bylines or used those names on the phone.
I don't think Whitten was trying to be racist. I do think he might have taken big actions with little knowledge though.
"It has nothing to do with racism. I'm not doing it for any reason other than for the satisfaction of my guests, because people calling from all over America don't know the Spanish accents or the Spanish culture or Spanish anything," Whitten says.
If I am going to Taos to stay in a hotel, I have an expectation that there will be some people of Native American and Hispanic heritage there. Isn't that part of the draw?
If you go to Hawaii and your hotel clerk's name is Mike rather than a Polyneisian sounding name, don't you feel like you are missing part of the experience?
They say ignorance is bliss, but the people of Taos might have allowed Whitten more latitude with his name change policy if he hadn't referred to the people there as "mountain people" and "potheads who escaped society." I don't think the Chamber of Commerce will use either of those on T-shirts.
Whitten went on to struggle defending himself, "What kind of fool or idiot or poor businessman would I be to orchestrate this whole crazy thing that's costed me a lot of time, money and aggravation?"
That would have been a better question to ask before trying to rename Martin and Mark.
This incident shows Whitten to be a simple man who has found success by being tough and working hard. He isn't necessarily a great ambassador for race relations.
Hopefully he can learn a life-lesson here and find a new path to success.
Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta Gazette in Augusta, Kan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.