What’s In A Name?
A LIFELONG AMBITION TO VISIT ICELAND was realized this year when I took part in a writer’s workshop at a remote but comfortable village on the island’s north coast. During one session an instructor commented that writing about nature was difficult, not least because one had to know the names of all that is out there.
Something inside me drew tight and snapped. I found myself asking aloud why everything has to have a name. Do we really know more about that little blue flower reaching for life out of the gravel once we are told it is called “Maiden Blue-eyed Mary?” What about “grizzly bears?” Talk about spin! Do you think the cubs of ursus horribilis would agree that their mommy is as nasty as her names make her out to be? Still other names seem to exist only as an attempt at personal immortalization: “MacGillivray’s (or Townsend’s, or Wilson’s) Warbler.” Hoping to set matters right, outdoorsy types prefer the Native American name of “Denali” (the great one) to the later, official “Mt. McKinley.” But even the original name is not without subjectivity .. if Denali were in Nepal the locals might have given it a name meaning “foothill.”
Then there is “bungalow.” If ever a name has seen vast shifts in meaning, this one has. In Western culture it was at first an exotic-sounding designation for a new type of vacation home—not negative, just unusual. With the bungalow’s evolution to a year-round home for millions of first-time house buyers the word took on a cozy, domestic, exceedingly positive meaning—only later to be betrayed by overuse and turned into a word implying something … well … lower class. (When Woodrow Wilson called Warren Harding “bungalow-minded,” he didn’t mean it as a compliment.) And that’s where it stayed for decades. In the 80s, when I told a marketing expert that I intended to publish a magazine on bungalows, she responded by asking, “Bungalows? Aren’t they those horrid little buildings on campus where you go when you can’t get a real classroom?”
No more. “Bungalow” is hot. It’s hot because Americans have rediscovered something about living in a bungalow that is essentially right, and the house type and its name are riding a tidal wave of popularity. All along, of course, the bungalow hasn’t changed in any way—only our perceptions have.
Having worked all these years to promote the virtues of bungalow living, I’m now a bit concerned that this popularity might exact a price. When I see builders claiming the name for tract houses and some Realtors stretching its meaning to add market appeal to inappropriate listings, I worry about cheapening the concept. What’s next, a “bungalow diet?”
I think the bungalow name can withstand the abuse. Readers of this magazine know the true meaning of the word and realize that it stands for more that just a style of house or a passing fad— it stands for a way of life. It is a genuine, honest way of life that American Bungalow will continue to champion.
But then, maybe I’m just too sensitive about names and their connotations. My parents made sure of that when they decided I should forever be called a “John.”
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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