A punctuated problem


Naming a school can be serious business.

Case in point: Howard County's Marriott's Ridge High School, which is scheduled to open off Route 99 in Marriottsville next fall.

Its principal has made an official request to the school board, asking that the apostrophe be removed from Marriott's Ridge.

The reasons? The name as punctuated suggests the school is named after a person, which is not the case. The apostrophe over time would add additional costs to uniforms and other school-related attire.

And then there's the school spirit issue: How do you include the apostrophe when cheering?

"Could you imagine, 'Give me a T. ... Give me an apostrophe,'" said Sandra H. French, a former school board member who has expressed concerns about the punctuation in past meetings. "They would be teased and mocked by other teams, and you don't want that."

This is not the first debate over the school's name. A committee charged with selecting a school name recommended Stone Ridge High, but the school board rejected it over concerns that it would prompt jokes about drug use, inevitably devolving into Stoner High or references to students as "stoners."

Of course, students spanning several generations have come up with whimsical monikers or made up unsavory titles for school acronyms. Howard County's Mount Hebron High School, for example has been called Mount Heroin by some.

"You know what, the thing is, the kids will come up with something no matter what you come up with," said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "It's amazing how they will turn it around."

Some parents of future Marriott's Ridge students agree with Principal Linda Wise, who made her case in a Nov. 22 letter to superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. The school board is scheduled to consider the request at tonight's meeting.

Phyllis McWilliams, a parent of twin boys who will be attending Marriott's Ridge next year, said the apostrophe already has caused confusion. She has seen the school's name with and without the punctuation, including on the Howard County school system's Web site.

"I commend Linda Wise for being forward thinking and ahead of it," McWilliams said. "If the official name is Marriott's Ridge, how do you cheer it? I would not have thought that through."

Called confusing

Added Sue Tompkins, a member of the school-naming committee, "Take the apostrophe out. It's too confusing. Make it simple."

The school system's policy calls for schools to be named for the geographic areas served by the new school, including names of communities, streets, water bodies and landforms.

Reservoir High School in Fulton, which opened in 2002, was named for two reservoirs in the southeast portion of the county. The community and the school-naming committee had wanted Fulton High School.

Marriott's Ridge was selected to recognize the community of Marriottsville as well as its location on a ridge that is one of the highest points in Howard County.

But parents and students have raised questions over the apostrophe, Wise said in her letter.

'Serves no purpose'

"As a result and after careful consideration, I am requesting the removal of the 'apostrophe,'" wrote Wise, who was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment. "There are many practical reasons to take this action, including the fact that it serves no purpose and adds no value."

Other school districts in the Baltimore area also have struggled with finding appropriate school names.

Carroll County school board members initially rejected the nondescript name "Century" for its high school in South Carroll before settling on the moniker. Century High opened in 2001.

"There are so many variables," said Mark Stout, Howard's coordinator of secondary social studies curriculum, who served as a facilitator for the school-naming committee. "People get very passionate about things. We try to listen to every side of the story and try to think about all those things. Things emerged that we didn't consider."

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