What’s in a name?
My name is Ted, though bizarrely it really isn’t; my real name is Theodore. I was named something that no one ever uses; my name is a lie.
When we started Parkeology we wanted the name to convey our interests so we named it:
Parks, Attractions, Resorts, Knowledge, Enchantment, Observations, Laughs, Obnoxiousness, Games, Young-at-heart
It seemed pretty good to me, it really rolled off the tongue but Shane (whose real name is Jimmy by the way) stepped in. He felt we needed something catchier so PARKEOLOGY was born.
As we often do Jimmy and I were discussing arcane park facts the other night when we realized that there was a name in the Disney-verse that offered some interesting clues to a fact that may have eluded us.
Now stick with me here:
Leota Toombs was a famed Imagineer who is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion. Miss Toombs worked on many famous Disney attractions including Pirates and Small World. Leota’s daughter is Kim Irvine. Kim has been an Imagineer since 1970 and even fills her mother’s shoes by playing Madame Leota in the Disneyland holiday makeover of the Haunted Mansion.
Meanwhile a guy named Richard Irvine worked for Imagineering from its very inception. Richard is well known in his own right having a hand in the creation of Disneyland and Walt Disney World as well as Disney’s 1964 Worlds Fair attractions.
So Jimmy and I started thinking: “Hey, wait a minute, could Kim Irvine be the love child (legitimate or otherwise) of Leota Toombs and Richard Irvine?” The timeline made sense, the ages worked… how did we not know this? Two famous Imagineers giving birth to another famous Imagineer!
It gets event better: Kim Irvine’s own daughter Ali is also an Imagineer. That’s THREE generations of women doing all sorts of cool stuff at Disney and somehow we did not even realize that Richard Irvine was the husband, father and grandfather.
As it turns out there was a logical reason for our ignorance; Richard Irvine was not part of this legacy, at least not how we thought. Richard Irvine’s daughter did end up working at Imagineering but she was not Kim. Kim however married Richard’s son, so Richard Irvine was Kim Irvine’s father-in-law and by extension part of Leota’s family.
NAMES! They are crazy, who can keep all this stuff straight.
Apparently names are just as confusing for Disney as they are for Jimmy and me. Disney keeps changing the names of things like they are contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race changing tiaras. Lets take a look at some of the more notable switch-ups:
Richard F. Irvine Riverboat
We should start with the Richard F. Irvine riverboat. Yes, that’s right, our old friend Dick, who caused all the confusion with Leota in the first place, had an attraction named after him.
In the early days of the Magic Kingdom there were TWO Riverboats. One was named the Richard F. Irvine and the other the Admiral Joe Fowler.
Joe Fowler supervised construction of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Sadly the Fowler was destroyed in 1980 when it was accidentally dropped from a crane! Meanwhile the Irvine was renamed the Liberty Belle in 1996 after a major refurbishment. Disney gave up on tributes to those who built the place, opting instead for a nice generic name no one would inquire about.
If you still want a ride on the Joe Fowler some of the mechanics of it were salvaged and re-used on the Mark Twain Riverboat in Tokyo Disneyland. However when you ride the Liberty Belle today (and hang out in the secret Parkeology Challenge room) make sure you pay your respects to Richard Irvine, it really is HIS boat after all.
In 1982 when the park opened it was EPCOT CENTER, all caps. Not only was it cool sounding but it actually meant something. The famous acronym stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and was an earnest attempt to build a park that retained the spirit of Walt’s original dream of a functional futuristic city. It was a “center” because in theory this represented the heart of a community that was yet to come. Visitors in the early 1980’s may or may not have understood what any of that meant but it sounded cool, futuristic and evocative of something larger.
Instead of creating the future Disney actually created a problem; EPCOT CENTER was constantly becoming dated. By the 1990’s Disney was struggling with how to market the park and maintain its freshness. I’m not sure who had this idea but rather than update and evolve the park they changed the name, in the most awkward way imaginable. Welcome to Epcot 94!
Epcot 94 was just EPCOT CENTER but no longer an acronym… it was just a meaningless made-up word followed by the year. This of course created the issue of what to do when it was no longer 1994 and thus the following year the park changed its name again to (of course) Epcot 95. It did not take long before someone realized how much money was being wasted on new signage, maps and collateral materials so in 1996 it was time for yet another name change.
Now the park was known simply as Epcot (lowercase) and kept that neutered name for the next 22 years. Finally in 2019, with a nod to the past, it was again re-named EPCOT (all in caps) though no “center” and no reference to it being an acronym.
Sometimes name changes actually make sense and have reasons to happen, such is the case here.
In 1989 Michael Eisner rushed to open a movie studio park before Universal could lay claim to the concept they in fact originated. Eisner wanted guests to experience movie and TV productions as well as attractions based on the most beloved and famous movies in the world. The only issue was Disney had made none of those movies.
At this stage Disney had not yet kicked off the animation renascence and its live action movies were still small-scale rom-coms and the like. They needed larger event movies to build the park around so they struck a deal with MGM. MGM licensed Disney the rights to their library of films and the park was christened “Disney-MGM Studios”.
Over time Disney produced larger and more successful movies of its own and also acquired Pixar and Marvel and Lucasfilm. Soon Disney movies dwarfed those of MGM and most everyone else. With no more need for a partner the park was re-named Disney-Hollywood Studios.
In recent years the park has expanded and shifted focus and there have been rumors that another name change may be in the works. “Cinemagine Park” is the most commonly heard new name, lets hope that this lunacy has past and they leave well enough alone.
Not to be left out the Parisian Park has also gone through a series of name changes, but for very different reasons.
After the disastrous launch of the Euro Disney Resort in 1992 Disney scrambled to re-brand the resort. Wanting a stronger connection to the city of lights Disney re-named the complex: “Euro Disney Resort Paris” in 1994.
This was better yet failed to address the most troublesome part of the name.
When Americans hear “Euro” they think of culture and history, art and cuisine, travel and glamour. Europeans however reserve this term for financial, governmental and otherwise mundane institutions. The “Euro” is the collective currency of the European Union, European banks often incorporate “Euro” in their names and while we have bureaucrats in government Europeans have “Eurocrats”. It was not at all a name Europeans would associate with a magical theme park built on dreams and imagination.
Only six month later Disney once again changed the name, now simply to “Disneyland Paris”. Finally the name connected the park to the famed city and avoided the drag of the generic and misplaced term “Euro”. The two things visitors cared about “Disney” and “Paris” were plainly in the name, it is stunning to think that this was ever not the name.
And so this was the end of the name change drama for this park…wait, no it was not! Despite having arrived at the perfect title Disney amazingly decided to change names yet again.
In 2002, with the opening of the dreadful Disney Studios Paris, Disney thought a new name was in order. The project was re-branded “Disneyland Resort Paris”. That may not sound like a meaningful change but this assumes that you are an American. For Americans a “resort” is simply a place to take a vacation or even a single hotel. To Europeans however “resort” specifically means a vacation town, usually located by beaches or mountains. It is closer to what Americans may consider a “tropical resort” like Hawaii for instance. In essence Disney took a couple theme parks built on old farm fields hundreds of miles from the coast and categorized them as a beach town.
This dragged on until 2009 when Disney seemingly FINALLY got a grasp on things once again and changed the name back to “Disneyland Paris”. Who knows what is up their sleeves, they seem to enjoy sabotaging this property. Maybe “Disneyland Paris: Alpine Lodge and Banking Center” is next. Lets hope they stay out of their own way moving forward.
Horizons, the sadly former EPCOT attraction, never changed its name while in operation but went through a series of name changes prior to opening. Originally Horizons was known as “Century 3” a kind of cool nod to the third century of the United States; the time frame which the attraction was set. Disney realized that it was very U.S-centric and changed the name to “Future Probe” which sounded like some sort of rectal device from the Omega Quadrant. Fortunately looking forward to future “Horizons” won out in the end.
Name changes are common during an attractions development. One of the best known name switch-ups happened to Splash Mountain. The uninitiated may think it is called “Splash” because the logs make a big splash going down the final drop. While that is true the original name for the attraction was “The Zip-A-Dee River Run”. This name makes sense as it ties into the famous song heard in the finale of the ride. However Michael Eisner wanted “synergy” with the recently released Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah movie “Splash” about a mermaid falling in love with a human. As bizarre as it sounds Splash Mountain was named after an unrelated (and not even current by the time the attraction opened) live-action mermaid movie. Eisner even asked for an animatronic mermaid to be included on the ride, a request the Imagineers wisely avoided.
In this case the craziness seems to have paid off. Splash Mountain is easy to remember, surprisingly descriptive and generic enough that we hope the name survives the upcoming changes to the ride itself.
There are many additional instances of rides, resorts or parks changing names for one reason or another but perhaps the most notable of all is Walt Disney World.
“Disney” does not simply refer to Walt but also his brother Roy. Roy was vital in the creation of the studios and the growth of the entire company. While there would be no Disney without Walt it is safe to say that the company would not exist if not also for Roy.
Disneyland was named after BOTH Walt and Roy Disney and the Florida project also was to be named after them both. The new project was much larger than the original development so Disney World was chosen to represent the new grander scale.
After Walt’s death in 1966 Roy became the driving force behind Disney World, guiding it to completion. With a great magnanimous gesture Roy changed the name to “Walt Disney World” giving his brother the spotlight and making sure that his name would live on in the public’s mind. Somewhat ironically people often refer to the east coast property as simply “Disney World” inadvertently giving credit back to both brothers. It’s a sweet story and made even more poignant when one considers Roy died just months after the opening of the resort he named after his little brother.
Names are Generational
If you are old enough to remember EPCOT CENTER that will always be the park’s name for you. If you recall Disney-MGM Studios you may find yourself slipping and accidentally calling it that even today; each generation embraces their names. As such Kim Irvine’s daughter Ali has a young daughter of her own, she is named Leota after her great grandmother! How cool is that? Imagine that your great grandmother, your grandmother and your mother all worked at Walt Disney Imagineering on some of the greatest attractions ever. When you ride the Haunted Mansion you get to see Great Grandma (or sometimes normal Grandma) floating around in a crystal ball. Want to take bets of what Little Leota career will be?
What are the craziest name changes or nutty attraction names that you recall and what name do you refuse to stop using, even if it is no longer the official title?