Should London demand better names for its tube lines?

Yawn. Image: TfL.

In the heat of the craze for Egyptology that followed the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, it was seriously suggested that the London Underground route from Morden to Edgware be called the Tutancamden (Tootancamden in some tellings) line. The name used the same awkward portmanteau language that brought us “Bakerloo”, to commemorate the exotic thrill of both the boy king’s tomb and the new ability to travel between Tooting and Camden through a tunnel.

The portmanteau word is awkward, more so even than Bakerloo, and it is a little hard to see the connection between the majestic, ancient majesty of the pyramids and either Tooting or Camden. But still, it’s a more interesting name than the Northern line, and might have provided the pretext for the stations on the route to have an Ancient Egypt-influenced Art Deco look. The current decor of Kentish Town and Mornington Crescent stations has its charms – but imagine them with the odd blue scarab or red lotus motif? 

The Northern line isn’t the only one to have more exotic name suggestions rejected. The portmanteaus Warvic (Walthamstow to Victoria) and Viking (Victoria to Kings Cross) were suggested for what instead became the Victoria line in 1955. Although the name is actually only a third-hand tribute to Queen Victoria – the line is named after the London Victoria station, itself named for its placement on Victoria Street which was named after the Queen in 1851 – it still has the same aura of fatuous forelock-tugging.

And on balance, weren’t the Vikings a less destructive force in the world than Queen Victoria? And more deserving of a tube line named after them? While the 1950s were a time of less vigorous cultural appropriation than the 1920s, there might also have been some inspiration to be had when designing a Viking themed tube line.


Sadly, none of the other tube lines seem to have solicited such interesting/stupid suggestions for names as Viking or Tutancamden. Instead they gained uncontroversial names based on some combination of the names of the companies that owned the line prior to London Underground’s formation, description or geography. The main exception to this was the Jubilee line, an authentic expression of contemporary royal fervour in exactly the way the naming of the Victoria line wasn’t.

Are these banal names a problem, and should we demand better? A nod to Tutankhamun in the name of the Tutancamden line might bring a welcome evocation of the Nile’s fertile banks to a mundane trip to Archway; while the Viking line would, if nothing else, give a hint of the kind of bustle you’ll experience changing at Victoria in the rush hour. But would it be useful or helpful for the tube lines to have better, cooler, more interesting names? 

I’m not sure. The names of the tube lines themselves are, in practice, largely irrelevant to a system primarily navigated by tracing coloured lines on a map, so snappier names wouldn’t necessarily provide any recognition value for newcomers to the city. It’s also arguable that giving each line more character would be counter-productive – the identity of the London Underground is it’s the Underground. It’s the tube: that’s the identity that matters.

Also, goddamit, those names may be boring but there’s plenty of solid, admittedly slightly dull history in each of those tube line names. The abandoned Northern Heights plan to extend the Underground from Edgware to Bushey Heath might not be quite as exciting as cracking open the tomb of a long lost pharaoh to discover the treasure within, but its worthy of commemoration in its own way; even the layered logic of naming a line after a station after a street after a queen has a story of its own to tell.

They may not be very exciting historical stories, but they’re ours, and I can’t think of anything more authentically British than that.  

If you have strong feelings about possible names of the tube lines, tweet us.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.