THE year just past may be remembered as anticlimactic from a millennial perspective, but it was an epochal year in the history of names. I am not referring to the decision last summer by Binney & Smith to replace the name indian red with the name chestnut on its reddish-brown Crayola crayon, although that decision was certainly noteworthy. The company acted after receiving complaints from people who believed that the word "indian" was a reference to Native American skin color. (It is actually a reference to a pigment found in India.) This was not the first time Crayola crayons had encountered name problems. In 1962 Binney & Smith gave the name peach to the crayon formerly known as flesh. A few years earlier it had given the name midnight blue to the crayon formerly known as prussian blue, on the grounds that no one knew any longer what Prussia was. I won't be surprised if some of the crayons still found in Crayola's 120-color pack run into opposition. Two bear the names of endangered species (manatee, timberwolf). Another (atomic tangerine) seems to scoff at public concern over food irradiation.
The truly big news in 1999 involving names was the breakup of the monopoly on the assignment of domain names on the Internet. As is widely known, a company called Network Solutions enjoyed the lucrative right to approve and register all Internet addresses ending with the suffixes ".com," ".net," and ".org." Network Solutions received a $35 annual fee from each registrant. A new oversight board has now extended the right of registration to many more companies. In 1992 only about 7,000 registered domain names existed. Now there are more than six million, and the number is growing by 70,000 a week.