I write today on an urgent issue — the names of our state districts are awful. They are interchangeable, non-descriptive, and so unmoored from community that pretty much nobody remembers theirs. Uninvolved citizens have no idea of theirs as they are so generic, and active citizens struggle to keep straight these nearly identical names that follow no evident rhyme of reason. So I’m taking a bold stand on a non-existent issue — we need to come up with better names for our senate districts.
This is inspired by our recent Democratic convention of course, where people are seated by Senate district. And all the day one saw politically active people checking their own credentials to see where they sat. I won’t say who, but I did speak to one state representative who was confidently wandering around the wrong district (had the names reversed). And heaven help you if you’re actually looking for someone. Is so-and-so in “Norfolk and Plymouth”, or “Plymouth and Norfolk”? Or perhaps their town is in “Norfolk, Bristol, and Plymouth”. If you’re from Middlesex County, you could be in one of fourteen districts, thrown in with any combination of other county names. And pity Senator Brewer, who I imagine carrying out bookmark-sized business cards to show that he represents “Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin.”
We could just number them, I suppose, as Colorado, New Hampshire, and most others do. Give us another number to remember. I suppose that would make it easier to keep them straight, but not necessarily make them interesting. Instead, I propose to borrow the system of Quebec, wherein each district bears a name that mirrors the area’s history (Jacques-Cartier), geography (Deux-Montagnes), and culture (Notre Dame de Grace). You can see the list here. You learn a bit about the place, and don’t tend to forget them. Sure, you lose the vague sense of mapping that we have now — obviously, the “2nd Middlesex and Essex” isn’t in the Berkshires. But it’s not as if a “Mount Greylock” district is going to be on the coastline.
This could be a great civic project for students, as much as the educational hierarchy is willing to tolerate the instruction of civics. During a general election, people could vote on what name they want for their district. I don’t pretend this is an urgent priority, but for heaven’s sake, Massachusetts can do better than these opaque amalgams of dying governments in our system. Submitted for your consideration.