Editorial: What’s in a name

To his credit, Swampscott Board of Selectmen — on its way to becoming the Selectboard — Chair Peter Spellios has a single regret about his successful push to rid town government of antiquated gender language.

Spellios wishes the town Charter Review Committee had taken up the discussion in 2013 about dropping “men” from the board’s name. If Committee members, including Spellios, had initiated the change in 2013, chances are better than even that it would have gone through the 18-month to 24-month process required to make “Swampscott Selectboard” an official name.

Spellios and other board members voted June 5 to set the lengthy name change process in motion. One glance at the board explains why the change makes sense. Women make up the board’s majority with members Naomi Dreeben, Laura Spathanas and Polly Titcomb serving with Spellios and member Donald Hause.

As Dreeben succinctly stated, “It’s about time… ” the board initiated a move to yank gender out of its title. The first step in the name change is re-establishing the Charter Review Committee to take up the proposal. From there, the name change will proceed through reviews, including Town Meeting.

This long procedural road is sure to be lined with critics who question why a traditional title must fall by the wayside. They will invoke phrases like “political correctness” to denounce the change and some will even call the name change a mistake.

Sounder minds will remind the cynics that the only mistake is the one made generations ago when a single gender was included in the name of a public body tasked to attend to the needs and welfare of all Swampscott’s residents — women and men.

Eight women have served on the Board of Selectmen, according to research by Town Clerk Sue Duplin. That statistic only serves to highlight the societal bias and former cultural norms that kept women out of politics.

Those barriers are gone and good riddance to them. The future, not the past, should be the focus for town elected officials.

To their credit, Spellios and his board colleagues realize their roles as elected officials extend to setting an example for young town residents who will become Swampscott’s future leaders.

Eliminating gender bias, beginning with official names, is a good way to show girls and boys that there is no barrier to their dreams and achievements. Dumping “selectman” from the board’s name is akin to doing house cleaning and tossing out useless and time-worn possessions that deserve to be consigned to the dump.

Let’s hope adopting Swampscott Selectboard as an official title receives swift and enthusiastic review and approval.

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