Last May the city of Hamilton, Ohio, sought to put itself on the map by changing its name to Hamilton!, complete with exclamation point. Now it appears that while the renaming of the city got what must be the maximum amount of attention a busy nation is capable of conferring on such an event (including some unsolicited advice in these columns), it failed to achieve its primary goal: Hamilton!'s bold, arresting punctuation mark won't get on the map.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has "agreed that punctuation marks are not part of geographic names," said Donald J. Orth, the federal board's executive secretary, in a recent letter to officials of the Ohio city. The Rand McNally map company followed up by announcing that since the exclamatory name has been ruled nonregulation, it will not appear on any of its maps.
Last spring's change of name was part of an effort by the city council to spruce up Hamilton's image. The city had endured a long and unpleasant association with a notorious toxic waste dump that had obscured some of its more desirable aspects. More recently it had finished 202nd out of 329 American cities rated in Rand McNally's "Places Rated Almanac." A couple of questions: Does this mean Hamilton rated 202nd in the quality of its sunsets, the placidness of its summer mornings or the friendliness of its milkmen? More important: What is the federal government up to in this time of deregulation telling a city it can't use a little imaginative punctuation to promote itself?
We expressed our reservations about Hamilton!'s name change last spring, and we continue to prefer to end most of our own sentences with a period. But in the interest of defending the First Amendment right to indiscreet use of punctuation (a right that Hamilton! intends to continue exercising even in the face of these recent discouragements), we make this promise: any time the county seat of Butler County, Ohio, is discussed on these pages, either in an editorial or in a letter from one of its residents rhapsodizing about his home town, Hamilton! it is and Hamilton! it will be. Your exclamation point is good here, people of Hamilton!