The challenge was to give my city/town a new name, but what is the place that I call home? I was born and raised in Houston, Texas where I spent all of my years until I moved to the suburbs in a town called Pearland. To this very day when asked where I live I instantly respond with Houston. Even though I can’t vote there I think of the Houston mayor as my own. Most of my doctors have their offices in Houston including my dentist. I get my hair styled and cut in Houston and I still do at least fifty percent of my shopping in Houston. I don’t really think of myself as a Pearlander even though by strict definition I am. So should I rename the bedroom community where I awake each morning or the city where I was born and grew old? Perhaps I can do a bit of both.
I’ve struggled with the idea of rebranding Houston. Just as with my own name the habit of being called a certain thing somehow seems to become almost a definition of a city or a person. Houston is Houston and calling it anything else feels as absurd as changing my own name this late in the game. I have become Sharron whether I like it or not and so it is also with Houston, a city named after Texas hero, Sam Houston and more or less forged by a couple of brothers with a bent for selling real estate,
There was always something a bit audacious and confusing about Sam Houston and the same is true with Houston. Sam had once been heralded as a rising star in Congress and a potential future candidate for President of the United States but he had a wild streak, a bent for adventure and the exotic, and a bit too much enjoyment of drinking to follow a straight path. Instead he ended up leading a rag tag group of rebels against a powerful Mexican army in an effort to gain independence for an area in the far northern reaches of Mexico. After a stunning win at San Jacinto in which his army captured General Santa Ana, he indeed became president of the new republic of Texas but eventually settled down to a quieter life in Huntsville, Texas.
Sam Houston was a conundrum. He lived among native Americans and seemed to prefer them and their lifestyle over his own kind. He was an advocate for the dispossessed but owned slaves whom he eventually freed and even helped o start businesses. He was brilliant but suffered from bouts of severe depression. He had so much potential that never really came to complete fruition, and so it seems to be with the city that was named in his honor.
Houston, Texas has always been a bit rough around the edges in spite of efforts by city leaders to make it more refined. It has wonderful centers of art, music, theater and learning but it is also plagued by a tough and tumble underbelly that sometimes threatens to become its face and definition. Just when Houston seems on the verge of becoming respected by the rest of the country something always seems to happen to make those who do not understand it shake their heads in derision. Lots of assumptions are made about Houston by those outside its city limits but few of them are true. It’s a southern city with a liberal democratic government and more diversity than any other place in the entire United States.
So how would I go about renaming Houston? Is there a moniker that is more appropriate than the one that links it to a man who lead a confusing and often misjudged life? The place has had a number of nicknames over time. It was once known as “Bayou City” which is a reminder of the ribbons of waterways that trace throughout the area and sometimes cause disturbing floods. Back in the heydays of NASA it became “Space City, USA.” Somehow that seems too much like a passing reference to become a new name. These days its mostly called “H town” which has a friendly vibe but is a bit too informal to become an official designation.
I thought of famous individuals who had contributed greatly to the progress of Houston but none of their names sounded right. William Marsh Rice was a visionary who gave the city a great university and the land for one of the best medical centers in the country as well as the property that would one day become NASA but Riceville, Riceland, or Rice City doesn’t seem to describe the city at all.
The same is true when considering other prominent Houstonians like Jesse Jones or George H.W. Bush. Such considerations are far too ordinary for a place like Houston which is home to areas more quirky than anything that weird Austin has. In fact Houston has a little bit of San Antonio (with considerably more Hispanics), a little bit of Dallas with its multiple thriving business areas, and little bit of Austin with an arts and culinary scene worthy of any great city. In fact there seems to be no way to adequately describe the dynamic and friendly place that is Houston other than keeping the name of it had at its founding.
As for my present town of Pearland I would not be audacious enough to suggest a change given that I have not lived here long enough to earn that right, so I suppose that I will forgo the challenge of changing the name of either place. In fact, it seems to me that human efforts to do so in other parts of the world have rarely turned out well. Perhaps its time that we simply stick with whatever we have become. I am Sharron and suddenly calling me Sarah Elizabeth would be absurd. So it is with Houston and Pearland. We are all three what we already are. Our dreams and personalities have become synonymous with the names that we were given to us long agoe for better or worse and somehow that seems okay.