Name game: Too soon for Obama pajamas?

To the untrained eye, the newest named lichen looks like orange fuzz growing on the rocks. Up close, the fuzz is made up of separate granules that very much resemble tiny candied kumquats.

The lichen — lichens are odd partnerships of a fungus and a second organism, usually algae, joined as a single symbiotic organism — is called Caloplaca obamae, or C. obamae. As in Barack Obama.

Kerry Knudsen, the curator of lichens at the Herbarium at the University of California-Riverside, discovered the organism on Santa Rosa Island, one of the north Channel Islands off California. In his research paper describing the discovery, Knudsen wrote that he had named the lichen after Obama “for his support of science and scientific education.”

“The final collections of this species were made during the suspenseful final weeks of Obama’s campaign for president and this paper was written during the international jubilation over his election,” Knudsen reported in the lichen journal Opuscula Philolichenum. “The final draft was  completed on the day of his inauguration.”

Clothe yourself in Obama
It’s not unusual, of course, for folks to name things after presidents. But usually, they wait until the president is out of office — indeed, many communities and federal agencies bar such honors until the subject is dead.

But Obama is a special case, it seems, and the rush to associate products and institutions with the first African-American president is well under way.

At least three schools, in Plainfield, N.J., Oakland, Calif., and Hempstead, N.Y., bear Obama’s name. So do numerous action figures and roads across the country.

So, too, do a story arc in Marvel comics and a novelty Chia pet. It grows green “hair.”

There’s Obama Air Force One Nikes, Ojamas pajamas, Obama Bar: The Audacity of Soap, H2Obama bottled water, Obama O’s breakfast cereal and Lazy Lady Farm Obama Vermont Cheese. You buy it in “baricks.”

‘Opening a way for our ... youth’
In Hempstead, on Long Island, Ludlum Elementary School became Barack Obama Elementary School in February. The school’s fifth-graders lobbied the school board for the change after Obama was elected in the November.

Until the 1930s, Ludlum Elementary was only for white students. That’s when Thomas Watts broke the color line. He was on campus in February for the unveiling of the new name, something that made him “just proud of that, very proud of that.”

“It’s opening a way for our young youth,” said the now white-haired Watts. “The doors open for them.”

In March, the Alternative Learning Community Academy, an alternative middle school for students with learning challenges, in Oakland, Calif., became Barack Obama Academy in March.

The change was pushed by students who said they felt stigmatized by the description “alternative.” But in many cases, the honor is seen as a fitting tribute to the election of the nation’s first African-American president.

Too soon to make a call?
That’s what proponents in Marin City, Calif., were hoping to do in December when they proposed to name a new middle school after Obama. But the proposal failed, highlighting the thorny issues that can arise when race and tradition are involved.

When the idea was first proposed, “it was natural for people in the community to bring this up as an idea,” with Obama’s election “being as powerful as it is,” said Shirley Thornton, a member of the board of trustees of the Sausalito Marin City School District.

But two objections soon surfaced, and more than 50 parents and alumni turned out at a board meeting in December to oppose the proposal.

The first objection was that it was premature to name the school after any president who had not proved himself in office. Similar arguments killed proposals to rename schools in Denver and in Tacoma, Wash.

That was a mistake made in 1970 by the school board in Hiawatha, Iowa, which named a new elementary school after President Richard M. Nixon. Today, it is known simply as Nixon Elementary, with no reference to the disgraced former president.

“I would like to see Obama get through his first term of presidency before we start to change the name of schools,” said Julius Holtzclaw, a former student at the facility the new school in Marin City is replacing.

Some see an insult to King
The second objection was more controversial.

The school was originally supposed to be named for the older facility it is replacing: Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. That prompted alumni, parents and students to complain that they were unfairly being asked to choose between two African-American heroes.

“Why take one black man’s name and substitute it with another black man’s name?” asked June Farmer, the mother of two middle school students. “There can’t be two schools named for a black person?

“It took a long time for [King] to get his due,” Farmer said. “He had an impact on everybody’s life. To change this name would be a slap in the face.”

That assessment was echoed by many students.

“They just want to rename it because he’s the first black president. I don’t believe in that,” said Angelyne Beltran, 12, a seventh-grader at the school. “We should keep it how it is now.” They should do that in Chicago, not over here.”

(In fact, discussion is under way in Chicago to do just that with Midway Airport.)

Patreona Walker, 13, an eighth-grader said she was “excited about the election,” but all the same, King’s name shouldn’t be wiped out.

“I think they should just keep it the same,” Patreona said. “There could be other things that could be named after [Obama] in the future.”

Louis Edney, a teacher at the school, said that for students, who are taught a lot about King’s life and accomplishments, the current name “stands for a lot of freedom.”

“The kids seem very proud of the name,” he said.

In the end, said Whitney Hoyt, president of the board of trustees, the community’s sentiment was paramount.

“I think it’s a good tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. to have a school named for him,” Hoyt said.

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