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A Minneapolis neighborhood considers ridding itself of the Calhoun name

The biggest lake in Minneapolis is no longer called Lake Calhoun, but Calhoun is still everywhere.

The biggest lake in Minneapolis is no longer called Lake Calhoun, but Calhoun is still everywhere. Star Tribune

This is a story about names. It begins in the 1830s, and will probably end around May.

It starts with a man named John C. Calhoun, an 1800s statesman who was twice vice president of the United States and a rabid and persistent champion for slavery.

He died in 1850 and left his name and his legacy behind him. Under ordinary circumstances, we could just file Calhoun away with the rest of the 1800s racists. But until recently, Calhoun was also the name of the biggest lake in Minneapolis. It was officially changed to Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name, this year.

Not without some vehement backlash from some previously unheard of Calhounheads. The Save Lake Calhoun group, led by Linden Hills venture capitalist Tom Austin, raised money and lobbied to keep the name. It even argued that the “Calhoun” of Lake Calhoun wasn’t the famous slavery advocate, but some random dude in the army, who therefore deserves to be immortalized forever in lake form.

Even after the decision was final, there was some pushback.

Not to mention some cognitive dissonance, because even if the name has officially changed, it’s still everywhere: Calhoun Square, Calhoun Beach Athletic Club, a bunch of area apartments and condos, and in parentheses directly after anyone refers to Bde Maka Ska.

But that leaves a question for neighborhood organizations with “Calhoun” in their names: Should they change, too?

That’s what CARAG, a neighborhood near Bde Maka Ska, is trying to find out. CARAG has been around since the ‘70s, and if the name looks a little weird, that’s because it stands for “Calhoun Area Residents Action Group.”

The group recently put out a survey asking members if they should find something more up-to-date and a little less “confusing.” CARAG is just a name of convenience, and now that the lake is called something different, it doesn’t even make sense anymore. The results would be confidential, and voters could enter into a drawing to win a $50 Pizza Luce gift card.

The survey mentioned some names that had already come up “through neighborhood input.” They included Henn-Lake, Henn-Lyn, Lakewood, Lower Uptown, and Uptown Square. It also included the option of keeping the name. CARAG’s coordinator, Scott Engel, thinks they’ll give everyone until May to pick their favorites.

“It seems like people are reacting quite well,” Engel says. Most aren’t longtime residents anyway. The vast majority are short-term renters, and most people in the area don’t even know where the name came from.

CARAG’s not too concerned with the historical weight of the name “Calhoun,” though for some people in the neighborhood, getting the “Calhoun” out of CARAG was “the main thing.”

The neighborhood organization’s more concerned with picking a name that fits better. 

According to CARAG president Tricia Markle, about 100 people had already taken the survey by yesterday afternoon. Once they pick a name, they’ll have to bring it before the Minneapolis City Council for approval. Meanwhile, the city is putting together a formal procedure for neighborhoods that want to change their names. This sort of thing hasn’t happened that often, so there’s no concrete system in place for it.