Staines-Upon-Thames I Hardly Knew You

And so it’s true. Staines, that humble town in Surrey, or Middlesex, depending on your point of view, is no more. From now on, it is Staines-upon-Thames.

Why do I care? Here I declare my personal interest. I was brought up in Staines. My father ran a business there for years. My grandfather was the mayor. There is even a road named after my family.

Why does Wordability care? Well, as  argued when Newcastle United announced plans to rename St James’ Park, names matter. They are fundamental words which define the way we see things, and changing long-established ones can cause immense upheaval.

The good people of Staines have decided enough of derision, enough of the Ali G association. They say that Staines is a vibrant town with an enviable riverside location, and by recognising that in the name, it will immeasurably improve the town’s standing and perception.

A commendable argument. But wrong, I think, in a peculiarly 21st century way. If the council had decided this 100 years ago, not many people would have noticed. They could have subtly introduced the name, changed signs, letterheads and so on, and people would have gradually become aware of the change and accepted it

But in the interconnected modern world, where Ali G is infamous and the internet has spread the story far and wide, it has opened the decision up to potential ridicule which can spread across the world. So rather than people merely accepting the decision, it automatically comes coloured with the comments, the links and the opinions of countless people that this is a pointless and slightly laughable exercise.

While there will be official efforts next year to implement the name, everybody will still refer to it as Staines. Who talks about Richmond-upon-Thames or Kingston-upon-Hull? Probably only the councillors who thought this was a good idea in the first place.

And if people ask me where I am from, the answer will still be Staines. Because in reality, that will still be its name.