Here's one battle the nation's chief diplomat might not be able to mediate.

It's over him, after all. His name, actually. Colin L. Powell.

In Fairfax County, a group of parents wants the secretary of state's name on a new elementary school. But the group faces opposition from parents who say they think that's politically loaded and inappropriate. Their suggestion: Arrowhead Park Elementary School.

The debate highlights an issue with which school boards often must grapple: Should schools be named for the living, the dead or no one at all?

Fairfax County doesn't have a hard-and-fast policy on the matter. Other districts across the Washington region have adopted rules in recent years to make the process of naming schools a little less controversial.

Calvert and Howard counties try to name schools after geographic locations. Montgomery County recommends that schools be named for "distinguished persons no longer active in their careers." In Loudoun and Charles counties, individuals must be dead for at least five years before a school can be named for them.

"They want it to be a reflective process, rather than an emotional one," said Charles County schools spokeswoman Jill Caniglia, explaining that district's policy.

Indeed, emotions are running high in Centreville, where one of four new elementary schools in Fairfax County will open in the fall. A community meeting last month drew about 50 people, who were asked to rank their top three choices for a school name.

Colin L. Powell Elementary School won 43 votes, followed by Arrowhead with 24 votes and Arrowhead Park with 23. Parent Barbara Waldman is waging an e-mail and phone campaign to combine the tallies of the latter two.

"Just give us a nice, benign, feel-good name," the mother of two told the school board Thursday night. "Don't use our school name as a vehicle to further any other agenda."

An advocate of having his children attend Powell Elementary, Ronald Hobson, who used to work in the Clinton administration, said Powell's party of choice should not influence anyone's decision. "Just because he's a Republican does not mean he's bad," said the father of three. "It's a great opportunity with his humanitarian efforts to bring world leaders to the school and to give kids opportunities they never dreamed of before."

Over the past decade, districts nationwide have made a push for school names to reflect their students' growing diversity. In the 1990s, Montgomery County spelled out that names of women and minorities should be considered for all new institutions, leading to schools named after environmentalist Rachel Carson and baseball legend Roberto Clemente.

About two years ago, efforts in Montgomery County to name a school after the late Spark M. Matsunaga, a Japanese American U.S. senator from Hawaii, drew ire from all sides -- including some Asian residents. The county NAACP had advocated naming the elementary school after a retired black teacher, and some Chinese and Korean residents said they felt uneasy about supporting Matsunaga, a U.S. native with a Japanese surname.

The community divisions ended once the sign went up on Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School in Germantown, said schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison.

"I think people are delighted with the name," she said. "It becomes the name of your school, and you take ownership of it. It becomes yours."

In Fairfax County, two of the four schools likely will be named after their geographic locations, Island Creek and Lorton Station.

It has been proposed that the school at the Andrew Chapel site be named after Catherine Filene Shouse, who gave the U.S. government land for Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. School board members say some residents have objected to that proposal, saying they prefer schools be named for geographic location. Board members say they will work with community members and solicit feedback until they vote this month.

In the case of the school in northeast Centreville, few students have weighed in on the debate so far. Some parents say that's just as well, as many don't even know who Colin Powell is. "If it were up to her," said Waldman, referring to her third-grader, "she'd probably name it the Britney Spears School."