Who or what is Cape Canaveral named after?

cathymo@mac.com asks "Who or what is Cape Canaveral named after?"

Cape Canaveral refers both to the city of that name (in Brevard county, east central Florida,) and to the geographical phenomenon on which the city rests. This is described by the Encyclopaedia Brittanica as  a "...seaward extension of a barrier island". Most of us know this place, however, as the site of operations for the U.S. space program under NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration.)

To answer your question in brief (and there's a novel idea for mrlucky,) canaveral is Spanish, meaning place of reeds, or cane.

Alan Ladwig, writing for space.com, goes into some historical detail:

The name Cape Canaveral goes back more than 400 years, when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon stumbled onto the area in 1513 while searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth.

He called the wedge of beach "canaveral" for its abundance of canes and reeds. It wasn't long before mapmakers began to identify the area as Cabo de Canaveral.

Although speculation and development of the area began as early as the 1920s, Cape Canaveral city wasn't incorporated until 1962. It's a small town, with a population just under nine thousand, according to the 2000 census.

The area drew the attention of the military for the purpose of ballistic missile testing in 1946, and, according to the History of Cape Canaveral,

On May 11, 1949 President Harry S. Truman signed legislation entitled Public Law 60 establishing the Joint Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral. The Banana River Naval Air Station, which had been transferred from the Navy to the Air Force on September 1, 1948 was renamed the Joint Long Range Proving Ground Base on June 10, 1949.

Of course, when most of us refer to Cape Canaveral, we are generally referring to the so-called Space Center located on Merritt Island, formally named the NASA Launch Operations Center. Its design and construction began in mid 1961, with the first land purchases occuring in September of that year. Many of the name changes at this and other related sites in and around Canaveral reflect the pissing matches over jurisdiction that were endemic during the birthing and adolescence of the United States' space program. Once again referring to the History of Cape Canaveral:

On March 7, 1962 NASA announced that Launch Complex 39 would be established as an independent NASA installation. As a result, the Launch Operations Directorate (LOD) was redesignated the Launch Operations Center (LOC). Dr. Kurt Debus was named LOC Director, after having served previously as LOD Director and Director of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency Missile Firing Laboratory on the Cape.

The conflict between the Air Force and NASA over the management of launch facilities on Merritt Island was settled on January 16, 1963 when an agreement was signed by NASA Administrator James Webb and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

The agreement stressed the high national priority of the NASA manned lunar landing effort, and stated, "The Merritt Island Launch Area (MILA) is considered a NASA installation separate and distinct from the Atlantic Missile Range." NASA was given title and management of its property on Merritt Island.

The massive growth and development of this space port owed no small debt to President John F. Kennedy's commitment to spaceflight, including his challenge to send men to the moon in the decade of the 60's. As Alan Ladwig recounts in his article for space.com:

...Kennedy visited the site on November 16, 1963, taking a helicopter ride to review the construction. He marveled at a model of the 281-foot (86-meter) Saturn 5 moon rocket, which towered over the 72-foot (30-meter) Atlas booster that had launched the Mercury astronauts.

"This is fantastic!" Kennedy exclaimed.

Six days later he was dead, struck down by an assassin's bullet in Dallas.

Lyndon Johnson responded to the tragic loss of the space program's most visible booster by ordering the renaming of Cape Canaveral as Cape Kennedy. Continuing with Mr. Ladwig's account:

Newly-installed President Johnson made the name change less than a week later out of respect for the Kennedy family. He announced it in a national Thanksgiving Day broadcast on November 28, 1963.

"I have today determined that Station Number 1 of the Atlantic Missile Range and the NASA Launch Operations Center in Florida shall hereafter be known as the JFK Space Center," Johnson said. "I have also acted today...to change the name of Cape Canaveral. It shall be known hereafter as Cape Kennedy."

The Times of London suggested in their May 21, 1994 obituary of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that it was she who persuaded Johnson to order the name change.

You can hear a brief conversation between LBJ and Ferris Bryant, then Governor of Florida, which took place on November 27, 1963 at CSPAN's LBJ phone archives.

Regardless of the origin, Johnson indicated that the name change had been sanctioned by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. Returning to the History of Cape Canaveral:

Executive Order Number 11129, issued by President Johnson on November 29, 1963 decreed that the NASA Launch Operations Center (LOC), including facilities on Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral, would be renamed the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA. That name change officially took effect on December 20, 1963.

The Air Force subsequently changed the name of the Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex to Cape Kennedy Air Force Station (CKAFS). That name change took somewhat longer, but became official on January 22, 1964.

The City of Cape Canaveral, incorporated in 1962 and sandwiched between Port Canaveral to the north and Cocoa Beach to the south, decided by city council vote not to change its name, although debate was bitter. The name of Port Canaveral also remained unchanged.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names confirmed the name change of geographic Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy in their Decision List Number 6303, September through December, 1963 published in the spring of 1964.

This seeming act of respect for a fallen leader created a furor which would last a decade. If you're tired of my referencing  Mr. Ladwig's article, just pop over to space.com. If you're hoping I'll bring  something  fresh to the party, just be patient and read this last quote:

Johnson quickly learned how attached Florida residents were to the name Cape Canaveral.

The Orlando Sentinel wrote: "the [public] reaction was one of mixed emotions. The renaming of the base to read 'John F. Kennedy Space Center' was warmly welcomed. The elimination of 'Canaveral' was something else again. That is a piece of history, and people traditionally are reluctant to sacrifice anything so firmly anchored in antiquity."

Name-changing edicts normally fall within the purview of the Department of Interior's Board of Geographic Names, which meets to review new proposals. But Johnson had asked Interior Secretary Stewart Udall to expedite the process. A quick telephone survey of Board members achieved the unanimous vote in favor of the change that Johnson had requested.

Although Johnson had indicated that he was acting with "the understanding and support of my friend, the Governor of Florida, Farris Bryant," the majority of state residents were incensed.

"Cape Canaveral is as traditional to America as Times Square, the Grand Canyon, Squaw Valley or Disneyland," University of Tampa professor Richard Cooper wrote in Missiles and Rockets magazine.

"To destroy its name, now or ever, is approaching the similarity of tactics employed by the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984; eradicating names of persons, places and things without a trace," Cooper wrote.

The Florida Historical Society immediately opposed the change, though it did favor renaming the NASA base itself.

Cape Canaveral Mayor Richard Thurm called Johnson's action "a disruption of the history of the State of Florida."

City Council members passed a unanimous resolution questioning the legal authority of the president and the governor to change the name. The council also declared it had no intention of changing the name of their town.

When northern politicians jumped into the debate, Florida residents responded quickly: "You want to name a cape after Kennedy? How about Cape Cod?"

After ten years of somtimes acrimonious and always futile debate and maneuvering in the Congress of the United States, this controversy was resolved when the Florida legislature simply ignored the Federal decision. Florida governor Rueben Askew signed a state statute on May 18, 1973 requiring that Cape Kennedy be renamed Cape Canaveral on all State of Florida official documents and maps. The Feds assented, through the decision by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (on October 9, 1973) to recognize the state's action at the national level. The Launch Operations Center remained the JFK Space Center, but the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station also reverted to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Boy, did I over-respond to this question! I guess, as I revisited the events and controversy (yes, sadly, mrlucky is old enough to have lived through this whole schmeer, and as a nerdy space junky, no less!), I was puzzled by the vehemence with which the citizens of Florida reacted to Johnson's gesture. After all, Canaveral is not a proper name--no historical figure was slighted by the change. A friend of mine suggested that Cuban immigrants might have been angered by the memorialization of Kennedy, the author of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but I can find no support for this supposition. It seems that folks just don't like this kind of change.

Brian Martin, writing in the Canadian "Journal of Commerce Online", takes a stab at characterizing this feeling. As the link appears to be dead, I will quote his article from October of 2000, somewhat at length:

The business of naming monuments, whether they are monuments we have constructed or monuments nature has give us, is always a tricky one.

Prime Minister Chretien's ham-handed renaming of Mount Logan to Mount Trudeau, however, goes far beyond tricky to outright tacky.

I'm one of those people who thinks it is smart to be very cautious about naming buildings, bridges, mountains or anything else after politicians. Although there are obviously exceptions, very few politicians ever achieve the level of statesmanship that would MERIT that sort of honor.

At very least we should avoid naming anything after living politicians and we should wait some considerable time after their death before handing out names. Mr. Chretien broke those guidelines. I believe history will show he was foolish. Furthermore I believe that his decision, should he stubbornly cling to it, will eventually be reversed.

This is not the first time politicians have done this. You'd think they'd learn. Apparently, though, they don't.

I'm no historian, but right off the top of my head I can think of several similar examples that proved to be flops.

When I was a little kid there was a mountain in the Rockies called Mount Eisenhower. For about a century before that it was called Castle Mountain. Then in a rush of postwar emotion it got itself renamed in honor of Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the allied armies in the Second World War and later U.S. president. Guess what? It's back to being Castle Mountain again. Has been for quite awhile. People don't like having their history trifled with.

How about Cape Canaveral? It's the same thing there. Cape Canaveral was Cape Canaveral for an awfully long time. All of a sudden JFK is assassinated and in the tidal wave of emotion that followed his murder it found itself renamed Cape Kennedy. It's back to being Cape Canaveral again. Same problem. Same public reaction.

This sort of thing is called re-writing history and it is just plain wrong. It doesn't fool anybody and it annoys nearly everyone.

Right or wrong, President Johnson's actions annoyed enough Floridians to restore Ponce De Leon's chosen name to the region.

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