As women named Katrina and men named Osama know, news headlines can make innocuous names seem less so.
"I think we should name hurricanes after vegetables we hate," a disgruntled Katrina Heron told The New York Times soon after the storm which shares her name devastated New Orleans.
Letters and numbers seem equally unlikely to offend, but Michael Mina's downtown restaurant is now in the awkward position of having a name very close to that of the state ballot measure to repeal gay marriage. Opponents of gay marriage last week submitted the signatures needed to put Referendum 74 on the November ballot. Their allies can follow the referendum's progress through Twitter hashtag #R74, which has become shorthand for the referendum.
Margaret Nicoll of Gruman & Nicoll Public Relations, which handles publicity for RN74—named for a road that winds through France—says the restaurant isn't worried that guests will be put off by the coincidence. "There has been no confusion expressed by guests or in online conversations regarding the restaurant," Nicoll says. "RN74's guests are an intelligent and discerning group, and as long as the print media continues to refer to the referendum as Ref. 74, there doesn't appear to be any confusion."
As it happens, Seattle Weekly's news department tends to spell out "Referendum 74," but writers at The Stranger and The Seattle Times have used the abbreviation R-74. According to Google, "Ref. 74" is rarely used by anyone.
To be clear, there is absolutely no relationship between RN74 and the referendum. But there is precedent for restaurants adjusting their names for political reasons: In 1917, New York City's famed Lüchow's dropped its umlaut in response to rampant anti-German sentiment. The strategy worked: As The New York Times reported, "The absence of the umlaut led many new customers to believe that the place was a Chinese restaurant."