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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Roses by any other names

Word reaches me that the National Maritime Museum is to be 'rebranded' as the 'Royal Museum of Greenwich'. Apparently the NMM name will be retained for the present building, but will be subordinate to the new overall name for all the sites at Greenwich. In one sense this simply echoes the recent creation of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, but there are crucial differences. NMRN gives a unified identity to a number of sites scattered across the country; there is no such rationale at Greenwich, where the sites are all within a 15-minute walk of each other. Above all, though, 'National Museum of the Royal Navy' clearly does exactly what it says on the tin; the title directly reflects the main focus and remit of the institution. No such logic can be detected in the new name at Greenwich. Moreover, that name surely implies - or even makes quite explicit - a downgrading of the 'maritime' focus of the institution; while the NMM name might be retained in theory, at a quite explicitly secondary level, the experience of the NMRN and other institutions surely suggests that the 'headline' corporate branding, and so forth, will reflect the new name. Yet 'the National Maritime Museum' is an internationally known and respected 'brand', while 'the Royal Museum of Greenwich' sounds like nothing more than a glorified repository of a few artefacts of local history. Worse, this rebranding might be interpreted by some as a signal that the 'maritime' element is no longer considered significant - this at a time when 'sea blindness' is rampant in Britain and when the NMM should be leading the fight against such widespread ignorance of the nation's maritime heritage, not effectively ditching both the words 'national' and 'maritime'. (In the year of a royal wedding and a government headed by public school alumni, it is surely also an interesting sign of the times that the word 'royal' is evidently still considered to be far superior to the word 'national'.) No doubt the NMM's management consider its 'royal' rebranding to be quite a coup, and probably a greater potential attraction for the sort of American, Japanese and Chinese tourists who flock unthinkingly to anything 'royal'. Perhaps it will be. Unfortunately, though, it is also yet another lamentable  landmark in Britain's relentless retreat from the sea.

(All opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of any organisation with which I am associated.) 

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