The West

Embarrassing Staines? Ali G town mulls name change
Embarrassing Staines? Ali G town mulls name change

Staines wants the world to know it's no blot on the landscape.

Sandwiched between Heathrow Airport, a cluster of reservoirs and a bleak industrial park, some in this London commuter town feel Staines has received some bad press - and needs a change of name to change its fortunes.

Middle-class Staines might have wallowed in happy obscurity had it not been picked by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as the home of Ali G, his tracksuit-wearing wannabe gangsta who specialized in hip-hop-inflected malapropisms.

Ali G's adventures cast the town of 45,000 as an urban wasteland whose main attractions include a traffic circle and the local KFC. The town initially welcomed Baron Cohen's fame, but the negative connotations lingered even as the comedian moved on to other projects, including the movies "Borat" and "Bruno."

A 2008 Australian tourism campaign cast Staines as the epitome of glum, soggy and industrial Britain. Staines business leader Alex Tribick said that was an unfair picture of a picturesque riverside settlement whose history stretches back to Roman times.

"Ali G did us a favour and put Staines on the map," Tribick told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The trouble is, no one knows where on the map it is."

Tribick argued for changing the name to Staines-on-Thames or Staines-upon-Thames, which would highlight the area's proximity to the River Thames, the lifeline that also cuts through London. It might even boost business and tourism in time for the 2012 Olympics, he says.

Some critics say the proposed rebranding would be prohibitively expensive and point out that the proposed name - Staines-upon-Thames - might draw the same kind of ridicule. If the new name were to be approved, maps, street signs and a whole host of other documents would have to be changed.

Anne Damerell of the Staines Town Society called the idea "pretentious nonsense."

The name change request has to go through a series of hoops - ultimately needing council approval before it goes through.

Although the city sounds like something red wine might leave on a white tablecloth, by some measures Staines doesn't have it so bad.

Britain is peppered with embarrassing place names - from Slack Bottom near the northern England city of Burnley to Lickers Lane outside of Liverpool. Many are far worse.

Ed Hurst, co-author of "Rude UK" - a compendium of snicker-inducing place names - said residents of places like Shitterton in southern England and Butt Hole Lane in northern England have also tried to change their names.

Hurst said he knew of no effort that had been successful - and he opposes fiddling with even the most unfortunate names.

As for Staines-on-Thames, he was unimpressed.

"I think you're always in trouble when you put Staines-on-Anything," he said.

The West Australian

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