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Wait, Could Walt Disney World Really Be Considering A Name Change?

Partners Statue at Magic Kingdom
(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

In any place that you find a lot of fans, you’re also going to find a lot of rumors. There are always rumors surrounding the next big superhero movie, and there are just as many around the next big addition to popular theme parks like Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Sometimes these rumors turn out to be true, or at least have some truth to them, but one recent rumor concerning Walt Disney World has many fans concerned that it might not be called Walt Disney World much longer. 

While it’s difficult to pinpoint where this rumor started, though it was recently mentioned on the popular Disney Dish podcast (opens in new tab), the idea is that Disney might be looking to drop the “Walt” from Walt Disney World and simply start referring to the resort as Disney World, or alternatively, Disneyworld. As one expects, Walt Disney World fans, who are frequently resistant to change, are largely not fans of this idea. But is there even a real concern that it could, or should, happen? 

Walt Disney in The Epcot Film

(Image credit: TWDC)

The History Of Disney World’s Name

When a press conference was first called in November of 1965 and it was confirmed that yes, it was Walt Disney who had been buying up all that swampland in central Florida, the project itself didn’t have an official name. It was being referred to internally by code names like Project Winter or simply The Florida Project, but the Disney World name had been attached to it early because it was going to be like Disneyland, only bigger.

Eventually the Disney World name became official, but just over a year after that initial press conference, Walt Disney died. He would never see his dream project completed, and the new head of the company, Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney, made the decision to change the name from Disney World to Walt Disney World so that his brother’s name would always be associated with a project that was designed to be his crowning creative achievement. And while much of what Walt Disney World was meant to be never happened, the name has been there for 50 years.

Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color

(Image credit: TWDC)

Why Disney Might Be Considering The Change To Disney World 

While a potential name change to Walt Disney World, especially one so small, might seem like such a minor issue that it’s not really worth doing, there are some reasons why it could happen. The biggest of these is the fact that most people already call it Disney World anyway.

While the official name has always been Walt Disney World since it opened in 1971, the fact is that millions of people visit every year and most of them don’t use the full name. For most people it is just Disney World, so changing the name to that is simply getting the official name in line with the unofficial name. The official website is DisneyWorld.com, likely because if the website were called WaltDisneyWorld.com, a lot of people would have trouble finding it. Sometimes a business just has to do what makes things easy for its customers.

There have also been some indications that Disney as a company is taking steps away from Walt. The biggest of these came on July 17, the anniversary of the opening of Disneyland. In recent years, Walt Disney’s original dedication speech has been played inside the park, but this year that did not happen.

A lot of fans questioned not including the speech. Some wondered if Disney’s recent advancements to try and make the park more inclusive meant distancing it from Walt, who has not exactly been seen as an inclusive figure. Splash Mountain is being re-themed away from its Song of the South roots, and Song of the South was produced, and even championed, by Walt.

While most of the worst stories about Walt’s personal opinions are untrue, once again, it’s a question of perception. Even if the speech not being included was simply an oversight, the fact that this oversight took place was potentially telling regarding what was seen as important for the anniversary and what was not.

There’s an argument to be made that Walt Disney had no intention of naming the Florida resort Walt Disney World, so changing the name would put things more in line with own wishes anyway. That’s certainly true as far as it goes, but I wouldn’t expect to see that as an argument why the name change should happen. Using Walt to justify the removal of Walt is a circular argument that won’t get anybody very far.

Dreamer's Point statue of Walt Disney at Epcot, concept art

(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

Why Walt Disney Isn’t Going Anywhere

If somehow the Walt Disney Company did want to distance itself from its founder, there would need to be a lot more work done than simply removing the first name from the theme park resort. It is called The Walt Disney Company, after all. The motion picture studio and the animation studio also have Walt’s full name attached. Removing the name from the theme park alone seems like a useless change if there isn’t a plan to do the same thing from the entire company. That’s a much bigger process that would take a lot of time, and likely cause a lot of controversy that Disney probably isn’t looking for right now.

Even removing Walt’s name from the Florida resort doesn’t take Walt out of Disney World. There’s a statue of him standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom. A second statue is currently planning to be added to Epcot in the near future, and it’s been confirmed to still be happening very recently. Putting Walt physically in the resort while taking his name off doesn't make a great deal of sense. Disney is even in the process of putting together a movie about the creation of Disneyland, and that means Walt Disney himself will be a character in a major upcoming release. Walt isn't being ignored by Disney.

Is it possible that Walt Disney World could just become Disney World, officially rather than just unofficially? Sure, it’s certainly possible. Nothing ever stays the same at theme parks, and just like the attractions and experiences change and evolve inside the parks, the names can also change. While fans would certainly lament this particular change, it wouldn’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. Disney World would still be Disney World, with or without Walt’s name attached.

But if I were to place a bet, I’d put my money on this change not happening. Disney the company trying to distance itself from Walt Disney the man is simply unnecessary because Walt Disney has been more symbol than man since before he passed away. Walt’s name is still frequently invoked by people inside the company, but it’s in an almost mythic way. Walt is a part of Disney history and nostalgia, and without history and nostalgia, Disney wouldn’t be where it is today. 

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.