States may bathe their license plates in ever more garish colors and imprint them with such slogans as "Breadbasket of the Tri-State Area" and "Land of Fillmore." Municipalities may put up signs outside town that say "Welcome to the Finest Little City in the Cosmos." But no place, so far as we know, has ever even considered doing what the city of Hamilton, Ohio, is about to do to promote itself.

* Hamilton (population 65,000, county seat of Butler County) is soon to become known as Hamilton! Its city council voted this week to have legislation written that would add an exclamation point to the city's name; a final vote will be taken on the question May 28.

The idea for the name change came, as you might have suspected, from a public relations firm that was hired by the council and the Chamber of Commerce to help enliven Hamilton's image. "We're 25 miles north of Cincinnati, and 35 miles southwest of Dayton, so the only things we get media coverage on are things like murders and other major crimes," an official of the Chamber told us, speaking calmly and ending each sentence with a period. "Also we've had the Chem-Dyne toxic waste dump -- No. 1 on the EPA's list. We wanted to get some more positive publicity than that."

Hamilton would like to be known for such things as its industry (headquarters of the Mosler Safe Co.), its successful job training program, its new hotel and its acquisition of the local airport. To this end the PR firm came up with a package that includes a city logo, the slogan "Hamilton Has It All" (There are those in Hamilton, the Chamber official said, who think that's laying it on a bit thick) and, of course, the name change.

We think most of this is fine, and wish Hamilton well, but still harbor doubts about that exclamation point. It seems like the sort of thing that could lead to misunderstandings and cause a nice city to work itself into a lather. Consider, for instance, the traveling motorist who wanders into town. "Where am I?" he asks at a street corner. "Hamilton!" bellows the cop. "Okay, okay, don't get excited," says the motorist, nervously eyeing the policeman's holster. Domestic discourse is likely to be charged with new intensity as residents seek to get in the spirit of the image enhancement campaign: "Where you going, Edgar?!" "Out for cigarettes, Irma!" "Don't you holler at me!" "Wasn't hollerin -- just exclaiming!" "Well, let me tell you, Edgar, I'm getting sick and tired of all this exclaiming!"

And so might you all, good people of Hamilton! Maybe you should add a semicolon instead, or just stick with the reliable, time-tested comma. One other possibility is to come up with a whole new name that goes more naturally with the exclamation point -- maybe Aha, or Yipes.