The General Hospital, Chennai, which is one of the oldest medical institutions of the county, is in the middle of a renaming row. Various political elements are demanding that the venerable medical facility be named after their chosen idols, conveniently forgetting that none of those names had anything to do with the hospital, its founding or its later day development. This controversy has brought to the fore our mania for naming/renaming well-known institutions, thoroughfares, public utilities and services after political leaders by way of commemoration. However in the long run all these remain fairly futile exercises.

Not so very long ago, public transport corporations in the state were named after several leaders. This led to demands from various groups for the creation of more such transport corporations, each to be named after someone close to their hearts. This even led to caste-clashes and the government, having become wiser by bitter experience, decided that it would do away with naming state transport corporations. They were all amalgamated into two – Metropolitan Transport Corporation and the State Transport Corporation. Nameless maybe, but fairly clear as to what their functions are.

Most airports in India (and for that matter in the US) are named after leaders. Here again, the degree of recall of these names is highly debatable. Most people refer to these airports by the names of the cities in which they are situated. The same goes for the domestic and international terminals at the Chennai airport. In the light of this, why go in for any renaming of General Hospital at all? And it must also be borne in mind that the names being suggested for the hospital are those of leaders who are well commemorated by way of roads, public institutions and services. The present idea is therefore a political manoeuvre thought of well in time for the elections.

Recently there was a move to rename roads in the city that commemorated British officers/public figures. It was suggested that these ought to be replaced with the names of Tamil scholars. While welcoming the idea in principle, this periodical had suggested that all British names ought not to be done away with and at least the names of those who had done good work in the city ought to be retained. We had also published the histories of nearly all the streets/roads that have British names. That spree of renaming appears to have been put on the backburner now, thanks in part to the vociferous protests from residents of those streets who were apprehensive about the effort involved in notifying the various organisations with whom they transact about the change.

The government will also do well to remember that the General Hospital is famed for treating those who are not financially affluent and they have always referred to the institution as GH. No matter how much expense is incurred in changing name plates, billboards, letterheads and corporate communication material, the public perception and recall of GH is unlikely to change. And therefore is it the best way to commemorate anyone if their names are unlikely to be ever used?

And lastly, if at all GH is to be renamed, why should it not be after one of the several great doctors who served the noble institution? But that may not fetch any votes.