The five names of Spanish airports are all symbolic | miquel a. canellas

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Rosalia de Castro, Federico García Lorca, Miguel Hernández, Adolfo Suárez, Josep Tarradellas. Three people from the world of literature, two from politics; there is a connection between these five. Airports in Spain have been named after them.
Rosalia de Castro was a nineteenth century poet. She was an important figure in the Galician Romantic movement who wrote in Galician and in Spanish. She was born in Santiago de Compostela. Since 2020, the city’s airport has been known as Santiago-Rosalia de Castro.

Federico García Lorca was the esteemed poet, author and playwright who was murdered by Nationalist forces in August 1936. He was from the village of Fuente Vaqueros, near to the city of Granada. In 2006, his name was adopted for the airport - Aeropuerto Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén.

Miguel Hernández was also a victim of the Nationalists. A poet from Orihuela, Alicante, he was 31 when he died of tuberculosis in Alicante prison in 1942. In 2021, to mark the 110th anniversary of his birth, the name Aeropuerto Alicante-Elche Miguel Hernández was adopted.

Adolfo Suárez was the prime minister who initiated the transition to democracy. Spain’s busiest airport has been Aeropuerto Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas since 2014.

Josep Tarradellas was the president of Catalonia in exile from 1954. In 1977, two years after Franco’s death, he and Suárez met to discuss the reestablishment of the Catalonia government.

This occurred in 1977, and Tarradellas was the transition president until 1980. In 2018, the Spanish government announced that Barcelona’s airport would now be known as Aeropuerto Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat.

Airports the world over are named after people. In certain instances, the airport name has become as well known as the person. Who refers to anything other than Charles de Gaulle Airport? We know it’s Paris, but Paris is almost incidental. De Gaulle, dead for more than fifty years, remains a symbol of French pride and of French nationhood.

Why would you name any airport after someone? Well, I guess national pride is as good as any other reason. And because it’s an airport, that pride is effectively on display to the entire world. Or as much of the world that travels to said airport.

In the case of De Gaulle and various others - John F. Kennedy, John Lennon are good examples - the name will have travelled the world anyway. Can this be said for those after whom airports in Spain have been named? García Lorca and Suárez will be the best known. But how well known?

The five names of Spanish airports are all symbolic. Four have a sort of commonality - the Civil War - while there are nationalist associations with De Castro and Tarradellas. They are symbols who, in different respects, reflect a Spanish struggle to reconcile nationalism, conflict and guilt. They are all important figures in their own way, ones not to be forgotten, but they are not genuine world names. For Granada and Santiago, this is perhaps of less relevance. But Barcelona and Madrid are major international airports. Alicante is one of the main tourist airports.

Appealing to an international audience is not, I would accept, a priority. But if there is a strong international market, does it help - in symbolising a destination - if the name is very widely recognised? Take this example. In 2017, the airport in Madeira was renamed Aeropuerto Internacional Cristiano Ronaldo. There are few names anywhere on the globe better known than Ronaldo, and if Madeira was looking for a name, then who better than its global superstar native son. Can you name anyone else famous from Madeira?

There is now a clamour for Palma to be named after Rafael Nadal. Or would it be Rafa Nadal? At a similar level of superstardom to Ronaldo, the recognition for Mallorca would be far greater because far more people come to Mallorca than go to Madeira. Politicians are voicing support for the petition initiative, but there will be some politicians who are less supportive. Més have wanted the airport to be named after Ramon Llull. Fine, but Llull - I’m sorry to have to tell Més - doesn’t cut it in the international fame stakes.

Nadal, for all he may seem to be a unifying figure, isn’t totally. Alfons Godall, a former vice-president of FC Barcelona, responded to Nadal’s victory at the Australian Open by going onto Twitter and saying that Nadal is representative of the “state enemy”. Nadal is perceived as being a friend of the state establishment, including the old king.

But so what? His sporting achievements are what matter. He is the most famous Mallorcan ever. Famous all over the world, he has already done much to promote Mallorca. Name the airport after him? Ultimately, it probably makes very little difference what name is chosen, if one is chosen at all. But can it do any harm? You would have thought not. Son Sant Joan is the current name. And who has a clue what that refers to?