Diablo-in’ in the Wind

What’s in a name? When it comes to people, we know names can be key in determining how a person is perceived. For example, if your name is Reginald, people assume you are stuffy and formal, whereas the name Billy Bob indicates to observers that you are a hillbilly. (I mean, your name’s got “billy” right there in it.)

But what about names of other things, like streets? Do they matter? Not a lot, no. But just because something doesn’t matter doesn’t mean people won’t become very agitated about it. And so we have three separate cases in the news recently of people seeking to change a street name because the current moniker reminds them too much of Satan.

We start in the southwest part of the country, where U.S. Route 666 is about to become U.S. Route Something Else. As you know, 666 is the devil’s lucky number, the one he always guesses when he plays the lottery, and so forth. (It’s his wife’s birthday.) (Yes, June 66th.) (And yes, his wife is Carrot Top.) As a result, some people are urging highway officials to change U.S. 666 to something else. It’s been called U.S. 666 since 1926, but apparently people just barely caught on.

The Denver Post reports a variance of attitudes at a truck stop along the route. One man quoted in the story said, “It just doesn’t make any difference,” but another man, a 49-year-old trucker from Minnesota, said, “I had a credit card sent to me out of Salem, Mass., with 666 in the number, and I cut it right up. It says in the Bible that if you take the number of the beast upon your forehead or forearm, you belong to it forever. A credit card is like an extension of your forearm.”

So obviously we have some very sane, Bible-knowledgeable individuals involved here. But what are the folks like in Escondido, Calif.? Do they want to change the name of Avenida del Diablo (“Avenue of the Devil”) on the grounds that if they don’t, the terrorists have won? Why, yes. Yes, they do.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that back in September, Harry and Marianne Batista embarked on a campaign to change the name, writing letters to everyone from the mayor to President Bush. The Batistas have lived on Avenida del Diablo for 16 years, and moved to that street only “grudgingly,” according to Harry Batista. “But not anymore,” he says. “Not with Middle Eastern terrorists calling us devils. I think now is the time to have it changed.”

The Batistas’ letter to the city of Escondido reads, in part, “I think it is a disgrace to this beautiful city that this street name still exists today, especially with what is going on in the world, and especially with what happened on 9/11 in New York…. These Middle Eastern radical people from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. and their beliefs consider us, the United States, ‘ËœTHE DEVIL.'”

So there you have it. Because some terrorists refer to Americans as devils, el Avenida del Diablo needs to go, pronto. Surely the logic is unmistakable.

But what are the folks like here in Utah? Are they also worried about el diablo? Do you even have to ask?

In West Valley City, Perry Homes wants to call a new cul-de-sac Mount Diablo Court, after a famous peak near San Francisco. It would go along with Mount Montana, Mount Adams and Mount Whitney, all in the same development.

But according to The Salt Lake Tribune, some Latino home-buyers don’t want to live on a street named after the devil. Hispanic culture, I think, is generally more interested in religious symbolism than some other cultures I could name, e.g., mine. When I was young, I had a Mexican friend named Jesus, a name I’m fairly certain my parents never considered giving me. (El Diablo, maybe.)

At any rate, the Planning Commission is supporting a proposed new name for Mount Diablo Court: Kathrine Ann Court. I urge them to reconsider. If you must change the name away from the devil, please don’t change it to a new, misspelled name like “Kathrine.” Enough Utahns are misspelling their own names already, without being encouraged by street signs. Don’t you agree, Cletus?

Sometimes world events conspire to make column topics obvious. These three news stories all appeared within a few months of each other; the Utah and Route 666 ones were only a couple weeks apart. My thanks to whichever reader it was who sent along the Escondido story, and my apologies for not keeping better track of contributors like that. This is precisely why I need an assistant.

I had a hard time writing this column at first, because I didn't have strong feelings on the issue. On the one hand, I don't think street names matter very much (I think MOST things don't matter very much). But on the other hand, I can't really blame someone for not wanting to live on a street with the word "devil" in it. It's how much they don't want it -- and their rationale for not wanting it (e.g., it means the terrorists have won) -- that becomes absurd, and once I had a grasp on that, the column became easier to write.

The part about Hispanic culture and the name "Jesus" was omitted from the Daily Herald. Despite the column having been written and sitting around for two weeks prior, no one discussed it with me, so I have to assume it was a last-minute thing, and I can only guess at the reasons for it. Like many of my crazy readers, perhaps someone at the paper also believed that mentioning something is the same as making fun of it. At any rate, that's why it was a bad idea to read "Snide Remarks" in the paper instead of here online. You never knew what bastardized version of it you were going to get.