Attentive readers will recall that I have an unaccountable fascination with naming things – in particular the naming of public parks and schools and the like. I took up the topic here and here and, most recently, here in a column about the propriety of naming a county in a Union state like Illinois after a man whose later years were devoted to the cause of Confederate independence.
Former IT editor Bill Furry, now serving the Commonwealth as the executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society, took up the topic in the September-October number of the Society’s Illinois Heritage magazine. Bill suggested that we observe the state’s bicentennial in 2018 by renaming Illinois counties. No one knows who or what most of them are named for anyway; a great many are named for heroes of wars fought or statesmen fondly recalled from other states. Why not name them after people and exploits of import to Illinois’ own past?
Bill reminds us that not one of Illinois’ 102 counties is named for a woman.
For argument's sake I recommend renaming Woodford County "Vautrin County," for Wilhelmina "Minnie" Vautrin, the teacher from the tiny town of Secor, Illinois, who saved 10,000 lives in Nanking China at the onset of WWII. Outside of China there is no monument to this "Goddess of Mercy, and Illinois would do well to recognize one of its own.
Sangamon County might consider naming itself Duncan County, for Otis Duncan, the highest-ranking African-American soldier in WWI, who earned his rank fighting in France at a time when the U.S. Army—and the rest of America—legally discriminated against minorities.
And so on. Concludes Bill, “In a free society, we should be at liberty to change the course of our future, to reinvent ourselves so that our history and our heroes are relevant to the generation that takes the lead.” Just so.