“What is in a name? Would not a rose by any other name still smell as sweet?'' William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet more than four centuries ago. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," he answered. Many people agree that with Shakespeare’s description that whether one calls it by its scientific name, Rosacea, its common name, Rose, or by any other name, its smell remains sweet and enchanting and never changes.
So, what is in the name for my alma-mater, Rhodes University?
As we discuss the possible name change, I enter this discussion with an open mind and, yes, more than a trepidation.
It does not matter whether one is talking about changing the name of a school, university, community hall, road, river, all change evokes the emotions of fear, helplessness and a lack of trust or confidence.
Changing the name of an institution is not something we should look at lightly. We needed to do our homework.
It is encouraging that the institution is listening to a lot of us who attended this august institution and are proud of our association with it.
Here are some of the arguments everyone is considering: Should we really care about what the institution is called, than on what kind of learning goes on inside its lecture rooms?
What about the fact that history is complicated and we need to learn about it as real people and events and all, not as fairy tales dreamed up by apologists?
Some argue that a different name will signal a quest for a new image, a new perspective, a new beginning.
Others may say: What's in a Name? A series of letters. A word. That's all a name is.
There are those who will say choosing the right name will create magic, change behaviour and can be the difference between success and failure. It can live for generations.
Others may point that when an organisation is forced to change its name, the circumstances are usually adverse. A name may become a liability or a burden, or simply lose its appeal to people.
To some, a new name may require constant explaining. If a name has to require constant explanation of its obscure origin, it may become a liability.
We all know that generally, a name is a word devised to uniquely describe an object, a place, or a person. A mountain or a river is given a name in order to describe it uniquely from other natural features; similarly, villages, towns, and even objects in daily use.
The assigning of a name to a river, mountain, village, or town may derive from historical events, fictional beliefs, or a mere expression of hope and expectations.
What about the fact that history, it has often been said, is written by the winners.
The renaming of schools, streets and other public places expresses many significant things. Among them are the growing political clout of new groups who are coming of age as full participants in our country’s dynamic political stew.
Of course there are those who say we should not judge yesterday's heroes by today's standards that we should leave today's institutions’ names to the heroes whose character and accomplishments can best point the way to a brighter tomorrow.
The truth is all kinds of things can trigger name changes--obsolescence, innovation, shifting public opinion, politics, and commercial trends, for example. But what is essential, is that everyone accepts the given meaning.
The point is if a name change happens for no reason, or because some politician heavyweight does not like the sound of the old one, money is being wasted.
For me to argue that a name change is propelled solely by nationalism, rather than by a whole menagerie of nativist impulses, rooted in amongst others, culture and tradition and history, is being simplistic and does not engage adequately with an extremely complex phenomenon.
I don't believe in the renaming of places for the sake of renaming. In a lot of cultures past, and some present, names have been taken seriously as indicators of a country’s statement about the life the country represent.
A name is a place marker, a memory maker. We write it over and over at the top of every paper, shout it during any communication, ending up in history just as Rhodes has done.
In other words, names have origins, history and meaning. Whether we like it or not, our name is tied to our identity.
A study published in the journal Attitudes and Social Cognition found that some names are changed for "implicit egotism." In short, we associate the world around us with ourselves.
The journal said in many countries, including Singapore and Malaysia, they have taken great trouble to ensure that none of the old and colonial names are being changed as they realised the value of historical names.
Indeed, what a name ends up representing to the community depends upon what the community stands for or against. What the reputation of the community becomes.
Names tell a lot about places and an institution. They remind us of the special affection we have with the institution.
To win any affection, brands have to achieve differentiation, whether in the branding message or the core products they offer to consumers, in this case education.
Any change of the name of the university will change the affection and alienate former students who will always have to explain the ins and outs of the new name.
Considering today's tough education conditions, value-for-education should be the top priority in most students and their parents’ minds, not changing the name of the university.
Rhodes has survived more than 200 years of operations in a very tough and competitive world of education and producing leaders in different industries and sectors. Indeed, its brand trust comes with time and great service which the institution has contributed to education in our country.
Of course, we need real transformation, not superficial transformation such as changing the name of the institution.
Why superficial? How will changing the name of the university bring transformation except just changing the name?
For me transformation should be about eradicating the inequalities in education, our systems, our structures and our political and social culture to attempt to correct the imbalances of the past as quickly as is feasible.
We need to spend resources and energy creating access to education and the economy and opportunities for those side-lined through the past policies. Where does changing the name fit in here? Nowhere.
True transformation cannot be about changing the name only. It should be about things that make a positive difference to the lives of people. How does changing a name change and achieve that. It does not.
I don't believe in the renaming of places for the sake of renaming. In a lot of cultures past, and some present, names have been taken seriously as indicators of a country’s nature, as protection, as a statement of some kind about the life the country represent.
I see no reason why we should be ashamed to carry on with the name Rhodes University as it is rich in history and certainly forms a part of our history.
After all, history is not always nice. If we do change the name, it loses a connection to an interesting feature in our past a time when blacks were not accepted, when some of us entered the institution after obtaining a “Ministerial Consent”.
As brand experts often say, a good brand name is as enduring as well-tended land. It serves as the groundwork for growing a successful product or enterprise, and is able to withstand the winds of change, Rhodes has done that.
Changing Rhodes University’s name will be a total waste of money, particularly when the institution is surrounded by the scourges of unemployment and poverty and inequality.
Real change is what we need. Money spent on the name change would be better spent on the town's crumbling infrastructure.
Changing Rhodes University’s name will be a total waste of money. The country and institution have more important things to spend money on than a name change.
Rich Mkhondo is a graduate of Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies