What’s in a Name Change?

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
"By any other name would smell as sweet."
spacer.gif—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

On 1 January 2008, the University of Missouri – Rolla will cease to be; Missouri University of Science and Technology will take its place. Chancellor John F. Carney III’s case for the name change can be found on this web page.
What happens when a name changes? The first principle to remember is that the name is not the thing (person, place, action, etc) that it names. We do tend to identify symbols with their referents, especially in the case of proper nouns. We load the relation of the name to the thing named with emotion and personal meanings. Into that gap between name and thing, we bring our associations, goals, purposes, feelings, needs.
Sometimes, a concern with meanings is dismissed as "mere semantics." Meanings are never "mere." For some, the change from UMR to MST will disrupt meanings; for others, the change will create new and welcome meanings.
Many aspects of the campus will not change with the name: the physical features of the campus will not change— sidewalks will not be rerouted, the buildings will remain where they are; while there will be some personnel changes, there will be no drastic shift of faculty, staff, curriculum, or students.
The name change will first of all affect perceptions of the campus. The case for the name change (linked above) lists and discusses areas in which the name change is intended to affect perceptions. Changing the name requires new signage, new identifiers on the Internet and elsewhere, publicizing the new name, and rebranding the campus. Through these processes, the new name, Missouri University of Science and Technology, will be solidly related to what it represents, and the gap between the name and the thing will be filled with associations, feelings, and purposes.
On a personal note, I changed my name twenty years ago. Folks who’d known me by my previous name experienced some confusion and puzzlement. ( I had to do a fair amount of rebranding.) People who’d known Eugene Warren got used to my current name, and many people have known me only as Gene Doty.

Changing the name—of a person, a place, an institution&#151means changing the feelings and values people associate with the person, place, institution and old name and replacing those associations with new associations for the new name. The person, place, or institution involved may change very little in many ways, but it is perceived does change.