What's in a name?

Published April 1, 2021

By Tom Campbell

Be there anyone among us who leads or has led such a pure and exemplary life that he or she should be honored with their name on a building at our flagship university?
UNC Chapel Hill officials have sent out word they would like suggestions for renaming three buildings on their campus that will replace Aycock Residence Hall, named after former governor Charles B. Aycock, the Daniels Building, named for News and Observer Josephus Daniels, and the Carr Building, named after industrialist Julian Carr. All three held racist viewpoints.
Today most all of us find these positions repulsive and wrong and it is understandable why many find their names on buildings offensive. We cannot ignore their beliefs, but neither should we ignore significant contributions they made. Aycock built more public schools and libraries in his four years than any governor before or since and is still considered our “education governor.” Josephus Daniels was US Secretary of the Navy in World War I and Ambassador to Mexico. Carr not only accumulated great wealth but was credited with helping a struggling Trinity College survive financial crisis. He then contributed the 300 acres of land that helped move and rename the school to Durham. We know it as Duke University.

Racism is America’s “original sin,” but it is not our only sin.
This whole topic begs the question whether we should name any public buildings after people.

There are few among us who have never had any blot on their moral character; this is most especially true for those who have accumulated great wealth or have made significant accomplishments in their lives – those who we might usually consider honoring with their name on a building. In the philanthropic world you quickly learn that one of the best ways to get someone to make a sizeable financial contribution to your cause is to promise to name a building, school or program in their name. The Morehead and Park Scholarships at Carolina and NC State quickly come to mind and prove the point.
What are the criteria we should use to decide? What is a significant enough contribution (financially or otherwise) to be a determinant? Is the naming a forever decision or perhaps an honor to last for a time certain, like 20 years? And who is really qualified to make such significant decisions? In the case of a public institution, like one of our universities, just how diverse and representative should the decision-making body be?
If we take racism (or any “ism”) off the list of criteria there’s not much left. Maybe we should just give them names of trees or flowers or animals. Or perhaps we might be best served to just number them, but then we have to keep buildings in some kind of numerical sequence, don’t we? It would be maddening for building 1201 to be on one side of a campus and 1202 on the opposite side.
This whole topic has opened a can of worms. Who would want to reside or go to class in a building named for a parasite?