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Buildings beware: Alumni should be careful where they drop their names

Names mean a lot more than we think. For example, if Superman weren't named Superman, would he command nearly the same respect? What if his name were "Chubby Chubbernickel"? That wouldn't repel crime. Well, I think Princeton should take a lesson from Superman and start thinking a little bit more about names.

I'd like to start by addressing rich alumni. Don't pay for something and name it after yourself. That's so Donald Trump. That is, unless your name is particularly apt. For instance, if Frederick J. Football '52 pays for the football stadium, go ahead and call it "Football Stadium." I've got no problem there.


But really, isn't it a little egotistical to erect monuments in your own honor. You can't help but notice random posts in the middle of otherwise unobstructed walks with random names scratched across them. I almost ran into the Walter Richard Barry, Jr. '55 post yesterday, but I adjusted my step when I caught its reflection in the Jeff L. Garenson '48 sheet metal statuette.

It's especially important not to attach your name to your gift if you're donating a bike rack or some other meager trinket. Does Francis K. DuBois '79 take his kids to Reunions to proudly show off the DuBois limestone floor tile just outside of McCosh 50?

There really is something to say about wealth when its management is unassuming and its use is discreet. The fact that one gives money should be applauded, but the charm of the anonymous benefactor is forever, much like the diamonds embedded in his watch. And it's not that anonymity is necessary; just withhold your name from the title of the object.

There are excellent reasons to name items after people, however. The school should continue to name things after its celebrated alumni, accomplished leaders and the graduate who killed Alexander Hamilton. We must honor service rather than aptitude for accumulating capital. The Einstein Walk (which does exist) is a perfect example. Rather than paying for the Walk, Einstein occupied his time by formulating the theory of relativity and was hence honored with that microscopic plaque in an arch of Walker Hall.

There's another thing at stake here. Careful manipulation of names could forward social progress on Princeton's campus. Let's take the new Stephens Fitness Center as an example. Jock-bullies go there to lift weights so they can bully people even more viciously — probably by throwing weights at them. Weaker people tend to avoid the Stephens Fitness Center on account of these marauding dumbbells. What if the University named the weight room the "Sassy Pavilion"? No macho guy would step near the "Sassy Pavilion."

"Hey Biff, I'll meet you at dinner. First, I'm gonna hit the Sassy Pavilion, though." Problem solved.


Furthermore, how can the school get slacker, juvenile types to do their homework and do thorough research for papers? Rename the library! Instead of "Firestone," call it "Possibly Dirty Pictures in the Books Library." That way these guys will comb books from cover-to-cover hoping to discover a tawdry photo. In the process, they will become well-learned lads.

The vital importance of names is inescapable. Shakespeare once posited the idea that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I beg to differ. What if it were called a "stinky-cheeto"? That's just lame. What were you thinking, Shakespeare?

Names are important, so let's use them carefully and with grace. Eric Bland is from Richmond, Va. He can be reached at

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