Should the name of Penny Lane be changed if it was in fact named after an 18th-century slave trader?

The last month has seen global anti-racism protests resulting in many important discussions on how things need to be addressed. Confederate flag? Finally being shunned. Monuments to Confederate generals and “heroes?” Coming down. Demands to defund police departments? Check. The list goes on.

But how far should we take things? It does get tricky.

Take the case of Dundas Street, a major east-west thoroughfare that runs through Toronto and extends far beyond the city’s boundaries. Everyone thought (if they bothered to think about it at all) assumed it was so named because it was the road to Dundas, Ontario. Turns out, though, that both the town and the street were named after someone named Henry Dundas, a politician who held up the abolition of slavery in the British empire.

Who knew, right? And now there’s a petition to have his name expunged and the name of the street changed because of its racist connotations.

Same thing with Penny Lane in Liverpool, the inspiration for the Beatles song of the same name. Preliminary research indicates that the street was named after James Penny, a slave trader in the 1700s. Now there’s a petition to change the name of that street, too.

Some see this as a righteous cause and another example of how people honoured with street names and monuments need to be removed from history. Others say that “No one knew who this guy was until you brought it up. He was completely forgotten! It’s now synonymous with The Beatles and brings in millions of tourists each year!”

Your thoughts on this are most welcome. Let’s take a quick straw poll.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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