Massachusetts Has A Busta Rhymes Island

Kevin O’Brien’s quest to call a small parcel of land for the rapper provides a lesson in how commemorative naming works.

Massachusetts Has A Busta Rhymes Island
[Image: Busta Rhymes via Northfoto / Shutterstock]

In the small suburb of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, outside Boston, there’s a pond surrounded by houses. In the middle of that pond is an island. Search for that island on Google Maps, and you”ll see it has a bit of an unusual name. It’s called Busta Rhymes Island.


Named for the famed Brooklyn-born rapper, the island was christened by local resident Kevin O’Brien, who lives nearby and often rows out to the island in a canoe with his wife. 99% Invisible, the excellent design-themed podcast by Roman Mars, got O’Brien’s story on how Busta Rhymes Island came to be, and why naming an island after your favorite rapper is more complicated than just declaring it to be so on Google Maps.

After O’Brien applied a geotag, Google Maps immediately recognized Busta Rhymes Island as Busta Rhymes Island. Federal bureaucracy, as one might expect, is harder to win over. You can’t just name a piece of public land after someone. You have to apply with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Oh, and the person has to have been dead at least five years, to ensure that he or she is memorable enough to be worth naming a body of land after. Sorry, but Busta is out. At least according to the federal government. Google Maps can still call it that, and one day–especially if enough locals begin referring to it that way, as the U.S. Board of Geographic Names takes local usage into account–it could become official.

What would have been a lot easier? Naming a street. Urban spaces like public squares and roads are under the jurisdiction of the municipality in question. That’s why there are plenty of roads named for people, from Jerry Orbach Way in New York City to Siskel & Ebert Way in Chicago to REO Speedwagon Way in Champaign, Illinois.

According to a New York Times report from back in 2003, the process for naming a highway in Connecticut is as easy as pie:

As it turns out, many of the honorees are obscure and some never even lived in the state. Having a road named after you is an honor, but it’s not all that difficult to get. Just get a state senator or representative to sponsor the legislation and it’s pretty much a done deal. No one can remember the last time a request was rejected.

Who’s up to nominate Busta Rhymes Highway in New Canaan?

Listen to the 99% Invisible episode here. Sadly, Busta himself does not make an appearance.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.