Forefront by TSMP: Euphoria or Paranoia – What’s in A Name?

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Forefront by TSMP

2 February 2016

Euphoria or Paranoia – What’s in A Name?

TSMP wades into the furore over the naming of schools and sites.

By Jennifer Chia

Cover photo credit: Unsplash.com

Singapore’s newest junior college became quite the talking point after acting Minister for Education, Mr Ng Chee Meng, announced in December 2015 that it would be named “Eunoia”. “Eunoia”, a Greek word, apparently means “beautiful thinking” and “goodwill towards others”. Sadly, the painful sounding name has generated neither beautiful thoughts towards the school nor much goodwill from the community. Public reaction has been mixed – between those who more kindly decry it as “all Greek to me”, to pundits who make cruel puns about its pronunciation (“you-know-ah?”). The outcry has resulted in an online petition to change the name.

Just two months prior, Singapore developer MCC Land faced a similar problem when they announced that their commercial developments near the St. Andrew’s Village school complex would be named “The Andrew Residences” and “The Andrew Village”. Although the chosen names were approved by the authorities, public sentiment was negative. The student, staff and alumni of the St Andrew’s educational institutions felt that the prestige and pride associated with the name “St Andrew’s” would be diluted by such a commercial purpose and may also create the impression that the development was affiliated with the school.

The naming of a development, building or estate in Singapore is regulated by the Street and Buildings Names Board (“SBNB”), save for certain types of developments and buildings like places of worship and educational institutions that are regulated by other authorities. Formal approval from the SBNB must be sought for any proposed name for a development, building or estate, assessed based on the SBNB’s naming guidelines to ensure that they are appropriate. Some of the SBNB’s key naming guidelines include that the name should:

  1. Fit the location and environment of the development;
  2. Fit the size and type of the development;
  3. Avoid confusion with another development in another part of Singapore;
  4. Retain the history of the building or the area;
  5. Be unique; and
  6. Be reasonably short and easy to pronounce, spell and remember.

Names which import national institutions’ names are rarely approved absent compelling reasons. Thus, names including words like “Merlion” or “Raffles” will likely face rejection by the SBNB as they may mislead the public into thinking that the building or its operations are state-owned or are representative offices of national agencies. The argument against the use of the word “Andrew” is analogous, as it is not improbable that the public could be misled into thinking that the development was related to the school, given their proximity. Although intellectual property arguments were not raised (the names were not registered as trademarks), individuals should also be careful to take trademark infringement into consideration when naming their building or development, as SBNB has made it clear that the applicant is responsible for carrying out the necessary checks with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore before applying for SBNB approval.

Moving forward, developers may well need to start consulting relevant segments of the community before proceeding with their intended names. While not a legal requirement, this would allow the developer to gauge the public’s receptiveness to the name, and simultaneously provide a platform to explain the rationale behind its choice. By taking time to listen to the views of the affected community, the developer demonstrates goodwill and enhances its public image.

While the Andrew Village incident was resolved by the developer voluntarily adopting the new name of “Poiz” (the foreign-sounding name ripe for a Barbarella send-up in popular TV faux news program, The Noose), rumbles of “annoi-ance” continue to sound over “Eunoia”. The Ministry of Education is standing firm on this. To date, the ministry has not released any guidelines on the way that it grants approval for the names of its institutions although the name “Eunoia” was reportedly chosen after sieving through at least 200 name suggestions and months of consultation with students, staff and the school’s management committee. One cheeky observer has said that it seems to be a mashup of the words “euphoria” and “paranoia”, which for an institution of higher learning in high-pressured Singapore, would be quite apt.

As these naming episodes reflect, public sentiment plays a role (whether a determinative one or not) when deciding on a name, especially in a world where a witty rant can go quickly viral. Apart from legal and regulatory concerns, those selecting prospective names should also be sensitive to the feedback of their relevant stakeholders because sincerity and goodwill will go a long way toward making commercial dollars and sense.