Professional naming by the numbers

Then one day at a brainstorming session, someone said, "Every Chicago ZIP code starts with 606."

Gordon wrote it on the whiteboard. Left the room. Walked downstairs. And it hit him.

"Wow," he thought, "could that be the name?"

He texted his colleagues: "What if it were the 606?"

It was a number that, with the exception of a couple of city neighborhoods that share a post office with suburban Elmwood Park, binds all Chicagoans, from 60645 in the far north to 60628 in the south.

When the name was presented along with several others to community groups and the powers that be, it came out the favorite.

Not everyone likes it — "Naming projects with numbers is so five years ago," sniffed one Facebook commenter — but among its defenders is Ben Helphand, who has spent more than a decade advocating for the park.

"It's short," he said Tuesday, speaking from ZIP code 60612. "It's the same backward and forward. It has the word 'oh' in it. It evokes the naming of rail cars."

(He notes that the trail portion of the park will still be called Bloomingdale.)

Numbers are rarely as emotionally evocative as words, and yet most of us have at least a subliminal attachment to our ZIP codes.

I like "the 606" because it comes with a story and a little surprise. Even if you live here, you may not have registered that we're almost all six-oh-sixers.

On Tuesday afternoon, I met Gordon out on the trail, in ZIP code 60647. The success of a name goes beyond instant popularity, he said, recalling an article he'd recently read about the iPad.

"All the iPad jokes," he said. "That product was doomed because of its name."