Name Games

Why stop with McCarran? Let’s rebrand everything!

There’s been plenty of talk this summer of renaming McCarran International Airport. At first, it seemed like a lot of talk from people who hadn’t thought much before talking: A name change would be neither cheap nor easy, and this isn’t exactly a time when the public coffers are overflowing. But with Sen. Harry Reid recently declaring that he thinks a name change is in order, this is clearly a subject that needs further discussion.

Those in favor of the change say that McCarran isn’t a household name like O’Hare, LaGuardia or Heathrow, the airports that welcome travelers to those image-unsavvy backwaters of Chicago, New York City and London. Apparently, travelers trying to get to Las Vegas are thoroughly bewildered. Many potential visitors, we’ve been led to believe, never come here because they can’t figure out where to fly. Changing the name to “Las Vegas International Airport”—so the logic goes—will provide coin-buckets of clarity to those making their vacation plans.

And there’s the question of brand equity (don’t you long for those simpler days before phrases such as “brand equity?”). Pat McCarran might have been influential in aviation during the industry’s fledgling years—he penned the Civil Aeronautics Act—but he’s been dead for more than a half-century. An airport’s name is prime brand real estate; why squander it commemorating someone who doesn’t stand for much these days?

So, as you see, there are myriad reasons not to stand pat with McCarran. But why stop there?

Once we’ve sent “McCarran” the way of “Dunes” and “Desert Inn,” let’s make a clean sweep. Out with the baggage of our cobwebbed history, in with something new and sexy.

Where to start?

For one, our city’s located in Clark County, an administrative unit named for Montana railroad baron (and U.S. Senator) William A. Clark. Clark’s been dead since 1925. Even worse, he was one of the wealthiest and most influential men of his day—a member of the one percent when the one percent were worth something. No less a writer than Mark Twain called him “as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag” (and that’s the nice part). If, according to Sen. Reid, McCarran’s name “shouldn’t be on anything,” then that should go double for a man one of the nation’s most cherished writers called “the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.” (That’s Boss Tweed, by the way, the Tammany Hall ringleader whose name was, in his time, synonymous with the worst kind of corruption and cronyism. But who needs to remember?)

Clark’s personal eccentricities, though, aren’t the worst of it: There are 11 other Clark counties in the United States, from states as far afield as Arkansas, Missouri, and Washington.

That many Clarks and that many counties can only end in disaster. Let’s say someone’s looking to vacation in Vegas. If they just know that they’re heading for Clark County, next thing you know they’re chowing down at Becknerville, Ky.’s annual pig roast, or setting up a pup tent at the Blue Top Resort and Campground in Fremont, Wis.; both are top destinations in their respective counties Clark. Frankly, it’s amazing that 40 million or so visitors are going to make it to Las Vegas this year, with all of the other Clark counties they have to pass along the way.

From a brand perspective, we couldn’t have been dealt a worse hand. Clark County just doesn’t sound like much fun. Some visitors might think that it’s named for Clark Kent, the boring, uptight guy who Superman pretends to be when he’s not fighting crime. Nobody wants to spend their vacation in a place that’s going to be boring and uptight. Wait, you’ll say, how about Clark Griswold? Despite the tie-in with Vegas Vacation, that’s still not the image we want to project.

So we’re agreed, I hope, that Clark County needs a name change. I’m no brand expert, but I suggest something sophisticated, but with an edge: What Happens Here County. Say it a few times. After a while, it rolls off the tongue.

With that out of the way, it’s time to make a truly tough call, one that might seem a bit extreme, at first, but makes perfect sense.

Las Vegas needs a new name itself.

Sure, it’s world famous. But it’s not the only Las Vegas in the world; heck, it’s not even the only Las Vegas in the American Southwest. We’ve been bigger than Las Vegas, N.M., since the 1940s, but who can say how many people hoping to see the Bellagio Fountains in all their glory end up staring at the ice machine of the Regal Motel in Las Vegas, N.M, wondering what went wrong? Just because that’s the name bestowed on the then-green spot in the middle of the desert after Rafael Rivera wandered across it way back in 1829 shouldn’t get in the way of clarity.

Now, with so much invested in the Vegas brand equity, we don’t want to start from scratch. Let’s ditch the “Las,” keep the “Vegas,” and add “Baby.” Imagine what the occupancy rate will be if fliers can touch down at Vegas Baby International Airport. It might go a long way toward putting our poor, unpublicized city on the map.