Physical Challenge: Name it for a Woman

There's Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, close by the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway stop. In recent years, many state and local governments and agencies have followed the well-trod path of college athletic programs by selling the naming rights to public buildings and transportation facilities in multi-million dollar deals with corporations.

Still, it remains an important custom that public structures may be named for historic or celebrated figures, including former presidents and generals, renowned public servants and occasionally high-profile entertainers. Almost always, carved into the concrete is the name of a man.

It's time to change this gender imbalance. The best time to suggest a woman's name is when the project is still a twinkle in the engineer's eye. As soon as a public project is proposed, alert constituents should introduce the names of worthy women.

It's a rare occurrence that a woman's accomplishments have been so legendary or laudatory that she is remembered with a physical tribute. These few examples include the Kate Shelley Bridge near Boone, Iowa; and the Betsy Ross Bridge spanning Philadelphia and Pennsauken, NJ.

Last year, the U.S. Navy announced that one of its seven new ships would be named for a woman -- NASA's first female astronaut to fly in space. Last month, the R/V Sally Ride, a 238-foot research vessel, was christened.

It's hard to find more than a handful of similar honors. (Deliberately not counted among the relatively few tributes to American women are places such as Dead Woman Creek in Caddo County, OK, and Crazy Woman Creek, Johnson County, WY.)

With each naming opportunity comes the invitation to recall the celebrated life of the honoree. From one generation to the next, the stories are handed down and perhaps embroidered. Yet the essential significance of a person's life is memorialized.

Kate Shelley was an Iowa girl who crawled across a damaged bridge during a stormy night in 1881 to warn an oncoming passenger train that the span had washed out. She was honored in 1912 with the naming of the Kate Shelley High Bridge for rail freight and its replacement, the new Kate Shelley Bridge that opened in 2009 and is one of the highest double-track railroad bridges in North America.

According to legend, Betsy Ross was the Philadelphia seamstress who sewed the first flag of the United States of America and presented it to George Washington. Construction of the bridge over the Delaware River had been underway for four years when the Betsy Ross Bridge was named in 1973 - two years after "women's lib" swept the country and three years before the nation's bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia. It was the first highway bridge named for a woman.

When Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus christened the ship for the astronaut who died in 2012, he said, "For decades to come, the men and women who will man this ship will look past the horizon, beyond man-made boundaries, searching, learning, and honoring the pioneer [whom] AGOR 28 is named after -- the great Sally Ride."

It's a powerful honor. Many distinguished women deserve similar recognition. Let's look for the opportunities to recognize America's significant women, both past and present.