Goodbye, Beaver.

beaverIt’s apocryphal, but supposedly Albert Einstein once said that the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. I’m sure harnessing the power of hydrogen will bring about some great advances but if we could ever harness the power of stupidity our potential would be limitless.

Coming right on the heels of the dictionary ban, a venerable old publication called The Beaver will be changing its name to Canada’s History. The reason is that the journal’s former name gets blocked by web and e-mail filters, particularly at schools. First I’d like to say that this illustrates one of the major problems with filters. It’s published by Canada’s National History Society, and there’s nothing salacious about it. Second, while many of us have made jokes about, for instance, Mrs. Cleaver saying, “Ward, don’t you think you were a bit hard on the Beaver last night?” we’re mature enough that we can pick up a magazine about Canadian history without making jokes about its title.

As a librarian I see a lot of scholarly publications with dull, descriptive names, like European Constitutional Law Review or Journal of the International Phonetic Association . A magazine with a title like The Beaver stands out in libraries, not because it’s funny, but because it’s distinctive. The new title, Canada’s History, says what the magazine’s about, but it doesn’t exactly grab you by the pelt, does it? The title even has an interesting history: it was originally published by The Hudson Bay Company, which was founded in 1666, and which made most of its money selling beaver pelts. Fur may be dead, but do we have to kill off the history too?

And as a librarian I can tell you how nightmarish title changes can be to deal with. The publishers of The Beaver are being nice and putting some small print on the cover of Canada’s History to tell us it’s changed its name. Some publishers aren’t so nice, so some magazine no one’s ever heard of may show up in a library and get passed around before getting tossed. We may get two or three issues before someone figures out it’s something we actually subscribed to under a different name. And sometimes publishers will cycle through a series of names. The Royal Geographical Society of London published The Geographical Magazine from May 1935 to November 1988, then changed the name to Geographical from December 1988 to April 1995), then changed it to Geographical Magazine from May 1995 to May 1997, then changed it again to The Royal Geographical Society Magazine in June 1997, before going back to Geographical with the July 1997 issue.

As far as I know Geographical hasn’t been blocked by any filters, but maybe they can do something about that by changing their name to something like The Gamecock.