A zoo by any other name

February 10, 1993

Here are some excerpts from The Sun of 1895, when the New York Zoological Society was formed:

"Mrs. [Grover] Cleveland was assisted in the receiving line by several of the cabinet ladies."

A convict was "committed to an insane asylum."

"WANTED -- Press boys, Davis Printing Co."

"It is said that fashion next summer will kindly permit ladies at seaside resorts to bathe without stockings, and stylish young women are already having their feet prepared for next season's campaign. Many feet, which look just too captivating in shoes and stockings, are not altogether lovely when exposed to view."

The point of the above historical potpourri is simply this: If the New York Zoological Society thinks the word "zoo" is outdated and wants to call its attractions "Wildlife Conservation Parks," so be it. The society, best known as the operator of the world-renowed Bronx Zoo, admits that it wrestled for two years over whether to change its name. It found disfavor in the word "zoo" because a) the word has become a synonym for a place of confusion and b) the prime definition conjures an image of caged animals and doesn't encompass the organization's research projects around the globe.

The name change may reflect a little self-consciousness. Zoos, like Baltimore's National Aquarium, have come under attack from some quarters as exploiters of animals. We won't open that can of worms here, although the popularity of zoos and aquariums is as great as ever.

Many an organization changes its name to keep up with the times. The Baltimore County schools' home economics department, for instance, recently became the Office of Family Studies; home ec, it was thought, reflected an outmoded concept of homemakers.

And as with the New York Zoological Society, the change was met with bemusement, even ridicule, for being "politically correct." There is an increasing level of name sensitivity these days, and at times, it may seem ridiculous (although anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that man- and womankind in 1993 have achieved the zenith of sensitivity for time eternal.)

Calling a zoo something other than a zoo may sound ridiculous to you. But to Sun readers 98 years ago, a lady was a lady, an insane asylum was an insane asylum and a woman's bare feet couldn't be countenanced.

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