Everybody else has an opinion, so here’s mine: When the San Jose City Council votes next month on a name for a one-mile stretch of Story Road, it’s got to go with Little Saigon. The name conjures up a place. It stirs emotion. It’s about history and roots and, yes, politics.

More than that, it sounds good. Nice ring, as they say. The problem? No name is going to please everyone. In fact, any name for the area of hundreds of Vietnamese-American-owned businesses is likely to leave one faction or another furious.

Nobody knows this better than Councilwoman Madison Nguyen. She started the name sweepstakes without intending to do anything of the sort. Nguyen wanted to honor the mom-and-pop businesses that grew up along Story Road between Highway 101 and Senter Road.

“The objective behind the business district that I proposed was to kind of celebrate the achievement and accomplishment of the Vietnamese folks who had contributed to that particular area,” Nguyen says.

Yes, a pat on the back for the architects of a “vibrant marketplace.”

“I never thought the name was going to become an issue,” she says.

You could argue that Nguyen should have known better.

“There is nothing more political than place names, especially names of regions or things that people have a lot of emotion around,” says Susan Russell, whose Albany-based Russell Mark Group helps businesses name products and companies.

The lives of many Vietnam immigrants were molded by war and diaspora. Many who came to San Jose lost their country to the communist government of North Vietnam. They lost their capital, Saigon, to the same forces. It is Ho Chi Minh City now.

And so, Little Saigon had instant traction for the busy stretch of groceries, gift shops, restaurants, nail salons, noodle houses and bakeries.

But there are those who want to look forward, not back. There are those who say “little” is dismissive. There are those who don’t want to be “Little Saigon” because there already are Little Saigons elsewhere.

They’ve suggested: Vietnamese-American Business District, Saigon Town, Vietnamese Business District, New Saigon Business District, Saigon Business District, New Saigon.

But the ring factor? Vietnamese-American Business District sounds like something the census bureau came up with, not a place you’d want to zip over to for a bowl of pho.

Vietnamese Business District has the same problem, though VBD sounds kind of hip. Saigon Town sounds like a theme park. New Saigon Business District, endorsed by a consortium of 14 Vietnamese social, political and religious groups, is better, though it makes me wonder what we did with the old one. Saigon Business District has potential.

And New Saigon, which is supported by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Story Road Business Association, is pretty good.

But I come back to Little Saigon. Yes, there are others. But once San Jose’s Little Saigon is established it will be instantly recognized here as the Little Saigon. “Little” doesn’t have to be dismissive. It can be a term of endearment. And of the relatively few merchants along Story Road who answered a city survey on names, “Little Saigon” came out on top.

Russell, the branding expert, says even those who initially oppose a name often come around.

“Everybody kind of gets on board and then they start to see meaning in it,” she says. “And then they can’t imagine that it was ever called anything else.”

It’s an interesting theory. One that might be sorely tested along a one-mile stretch of Story Road.


Contact Mike Cassidy at mcassidy@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5536.