The English Town That Changed Its Name Because of Sacha Baron Cohen

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images / Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While a shout-out on a popular TV show might be a boon for some small towns, many of the residents of Staines, a town on the River Thames in Surrey, England, were pretty displeased when their hometown became a recurring joke on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show, which ran from 2000 to 2004. In fact, according to Condé Nast Traveler, residents were so upset to be named as the fictional Ali G’s hometown that they changed the town’s name, making the official switch to the slightly fancier-sounding Staines-upon-Thames.

Baron Cohen’s alter-ego Ali G, a white suburbanite who plays at being a streetwise rapper, claims to live in the heart of the “Staines Ghetto.” The location serves as an in-joke for Brits familiar with the relatively affluent London commuter town. Being from Staines is the opposite of being from the ghetto, in other words, adding to Ali G’s poser persona. The town’s greatest claim to fame before Baron Cohen made its name famous was that it is a major producer of linoleum—and that it was the hometown of the decorated World War II homing pigeon All Alone.

Unfortunately, many Staines residents didn’t appreciate the joke. In 2011, the chairman of a local commerce group claimed that the town's association with Ali G was lowering its property values.

“There’s no doubt Ali G put Staines on the map,” Alex Tribick of the Spelthorne Business Forum said, “but for all the wrong reasons. He put the stain in Staines.” The borough council voted in favor of changing the name to Staines-upon-Thames in December 2011, no doubt leading newscasters everywhere to stumble over the phrase “Staines-upon-Thames name change.”

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]