The Catholic Church is slow to change. When it comes to the names of our churches, that’s a good thing.
Last week, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Staples Center in Los Angeles, announced an early Christmas present to L.A. sports fans: As of Dec. 25, the stadium will henceforth be known as the Crypto.com Center.
If that sounds more like a “Someone’s been very naughty this year” special, you are not the only one feeling that way.“Nah,” said L.A. Clippers star Reggie Jackson. Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa posted a photo of the Staples Center with the caption, “Forever known as the house that Kobe built.” Meanwhile, New Orleans Pelicans fans thought, “At least you’re not the Smoothie King Center.”
Though some such name changes are not quite so awful, we seem to be in an era where it is common to see long-standing arenas have their naming rights bought by the latest whatever.com. Crypto.com is a Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange that allows people to buy and sell Bitcoin and other digital currency, because that is a thing that apparently we do now. It is the second such exchange to buy the naming rights to a U.S. sporting venue (FTX bought the rights to the Miami Heat’s arena earlier this year), in what appears to be a bid to make something that involves the word “crypto” seem mainstream and not at all sketchy. The company has no previous ties to Los Angeles, but it did theoretically have $700 million to spend over the next 20 years—as some of my favorite America editorials of yore would end, “Time will tell”—so here we are
Though some name changes are not quite so awful, we seem to be in an era where it is common to see long-standing arenas have their naming rights bought by the latest whatever.com.
In a better world we would be able to report this name change to some sort of federal bureau of aesthetics. Dear Middle-Aged Business People of the World: Adding internet domain suffixes to your IRL name does not make you look hip, and we resent you for making the world uglier. For those who think Shakespeare was right—a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet—try rose.biz or rose.blog on for size.
Also, is there anything more cringey than changing the name of a place that means so much to people for some extra cash? I get it, A.E.G. is a for-profit venture (though Staples Arena has long been one of the most lucrative arenas in the country). But its business here relies on sports teams, which only succeed to the extent that they build lasting, fiercely personal relationships with their fans. The name of the place where the Lakers won their last six NBA championships, the L.A. Sparks three WNBA championships and the L.A. Kings two Stanley Cups, the place where Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and Lisa Leslie played, is part of people’s memory of those experiences. To see the name changed, as L.A. Clippers player Paul George put it, is “like just stripping the history here.”
In one sense the Catholic Church is familiar with these kinds of dilemmas. Many rooms and buildings on our campuses are either named (or renamed) for a donor willing to give a big check to support the school.
Dear Middle-Aged Business People of the World: Adding internet domain suffixes to your IRL name does not make you look hip, and we resent you for making the world uglier.
But overall, the church is slow to change. Indeed, it is often attacked for the degree to which it can insist on continuity despite everything around us suggesting times have changed and we should, too. And yet that insistence also reflects our understanding that the history of things is important, not just as anecdote or factoid but as the foundation on which our own experience rests.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York has changed in many ways since it first opened its doors in 1878, and the city around it, too. And yet walk through its doors (and past the crowds) and that sense of the spirit that you feel is in large part the result of the millions of prayers that have been said there, the weddings, funerals, baptisms and confessions that have been celebrated over the last 143 years. Whether we realize it or not, our present experience is steeped in our ancestors’ practice.
And the name of a place is a part of all that. St. Patrick’s Cathedral will no doubt continue to change in the coming decades, but one thing it will never do is rename itself #JesusWins Cathedral—not only because that name is terrible but because to alter the name of this place would be to remove something essential from it.
Unlike many secular locations, for Catholics part of the issue is the person behind the name itself. To name a cathedral after St. Patrick, a chapel after St. Joan of Arc or a high school after Mary is to invoke those figures as patrons of this space. It is to ask those holy women and men to look out for all those who come here and to dedicate the place to their mission. Spiritually we believe that St. Patrick, St. Joan and Mary will look out for those connected to the Catholic institutions named after them and that who we are as the community of St. Patrick, St. Joan or Mary will be shaped over time by who they were.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral will no doubt continue to change in the coming decades, but one thing it will never do is rename itself #JesusWins Cathedral.
Obviously, we would not say that old-timey White Sox fans sought the blessing of Charles Comiskey when they came to that cathedral of baseball, or that the mission of a box store to provide cheap office supplies somehow becomes our own mission the more we frequent the Staples Center. But there is a way in which public spaces like arenas, parks, even skyscrapers take on a life of their own in a community. When that happens, their names no longer refer to the donors from whom they came but the blessings that people have known there.
We would never say we pray to Andrew Carnegie, Walt Disney or Dorothy Chandler, but for those who frequent the places titled after them, their names can have a saint-like sense of shelter or gift. And to take that away from them is to undermine something important and in its own way spiritual.
It is also a bet you may regret. Do we really think there’s going to be a “Crypto.com” in 20 years? To be clear, that is longer than Facebook has been around or smartphones or Netflix’s streaming services. And again, it’s called “Crypto,” which is basically like someone in the ’80s wanting to rename Wrigley Field “Sony Walkman Field.”
Some are saying the Staples Center will henceforth be known as “the Crypt.” It is a bit of a creepy name for a place that intends to be welcoming to families with children, though I guess silver linings come in strange forms sometimes. But when it comes right down to it, maybe that’s what all of these renamed stadiums are, sites below which great histories and figures are buried.
Correction: A previous version of this article identified Kobe Bryant’s widow as Shannon. Her name is Vanessa.