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Neighborhood Names: Why Should the Law Care?

Posted by on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 in En Banc, Responses.

Nadav Shoked | 72 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 267 |

Names matter. We all realize that they matter for our lives, but we do not intuitively assume that names matter for the law just as well. And yet, in many legal fields, they clearly do. In international law, the question what country gets to be called China and which one is Macedonia has carried major repercussions. In food law, extensive regulation determines rights to use names or marks of origin indicating the place, region, or country whence a foodstuff hails. Trademark law’s whole function is to allocate names to businesses: to decide which market entity can employ a specific name when selling goods or services. Local government law, for its part, also has always dealt with names. After all, any local government unit, such as a city, must have a name. Still, the processes for picking a municipality’s name are straightforward enough that they raise little controversy —with the minor, mostly historic, exception of cases where a city disincorporated and then reincorporated with a new name as a ploy to evade financial liabilities.

Unlike country names in international law, origin names in food law, or business names in trademark law, municipality names in local government law are not a matter the law is heavily invested in: they are just there. In their eye-opening article, however, Nestor Davidson and David Fagundes illustrate that in fact there are names that matter quite a bit in local government law. Surprisingly, these are not the names of cities—or of any other recognized local government entity. Rather, the names that matter in local government law are the names of neighborhoods: subareas within cities which otherwise enjoy no recognized legal standing.

Law and Neighborhood Names reaches this important conclusion through a three step move. First, it draws legal commentators’ attention to real world disputes over the naming of neighborhoods and to the work of social scientists analyzing these naming battles. Second, Davidson and Fagundes identify the heretofore ignored role the law—specifically, local government law—can, and does, play in these disputes. They unearth and categorize the disparate legal regimes U.S. cities currently institute for bestowing names on subareas contained within them. Third, having explored the real world and doctrinal dynamics of neighborhood naming battles, the authors elaborate on the legal theory that should animate our approach to these conflicts. They highlight the importance of neighborhood naming conflicts for both property theorists—for whom these disputes should illustrate the centrality and variety of cultural properties—and for local government law scholars—who should observe these struggles to better appreciate the intricate interplay between formality and informality that characterizes our local governance system.

PDF Download Link: Neighborhood Names

Link to Nestor M. Davidson & David Fagundes’ Vanderbilt Law Review Article

Nadav Shoked