Downtown has a Proper-Noun Problem and Needs to ‘Shift’ Gears

illustration by Jon Estrada

illustration by Jon Estrada

Have you heard about Shift? It’s a terrific transportation startup. According to a recent article in Mashable, they’re staffed with former Google engineers and just raised $23.8 million in seed funding; in short, these guys are legit. And the best thing about Shift is that it’s based right here in Downtown Las Vegas.

Except it isn’t. That Shift is based in San Francisco and is intended to simplify used car sales. Our Shift is a car-ownership alternative and a great idea in its own right, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s another company out there with the same name as ours. And as near as I can tell, they were Shift first. (It should also be noted that Nissan has been using “Shift” as its slogan since 2002.) We can’t all be “Shift,” gentlemen, even if he is a complicated man who’s only fully understood by his woman.

The mirror-universe “Shift” problem—and, to a lesser degree, Mr. Brainwash’s “Life Is Beautiful” nuisance lawsuit—points to a larger problem Downtown Las Vegas has suffered for a while: We can’t name things. Downtown Project is perhaps the worst offender in this regard, with a market called The Market, a shipping container park called Container Park, and a place called Place. But they’re far from the only ones: Over on the northwest corner of Fremont and Seventh streets, a Scottsdale, Arizona, company is building a venue that’s actually named The Venue. And with all due respect to Derek Stevens—seriously, man, your Andiamo Steakhouse is really freaking good—I can’t look at The D without thinking of virtually every poor report card I ever brought home.

We’re beginning to snap out of it, I think. The soon-to-debut Writer’s Block on Fremont is a great name for a bookshop and writer’s classroom, and the Bunkhouse/Wheel House combination should lend itself nicely to a collective nickname. Still, we need to be on guard and make sure some clever entrepreneur doesn’t open a bar called “Bar,” or launch a startup called “Goggle.” Quite frankly, we need brand police—some kind of mutant half Don Draper, half Batman.

On a slightly more serious note, bad or derivative names diminish Downtown’s brand. We can’t tell the national press that we’re creating something new and original in our city core when we’ve punted on half the names of our businesses. It’s the equivalent of someone trying to convince you how brilliant and original Taylor Swift’s songwriting is.

We could just get by on abbreviations and improper nouns, but why do that when there’s an entire world of language we can draw from? Or words we can simply invent? We can make shit up without fear of reprisal.

This is, of course, writerly nitpicking. The Market’s sandwiches are no less delicious for this problem, and (our) Shift no less useful. But just imagine how much more national press Shift could be pulling right now if it didn’t share a name with a better-funded San Francisco rival. And those sandwiches would still be delicious if we’d called it “The Fremont Market,” and we wouldn’t have to take the extra step of explaining to interested friends which market we’re talking about.

Good names have more agency than bad ones. So let’s pick some good ones from now on. At the very least, by doing so, we’ll have a better sense of Place.

Vegas Seven