What’s in a name? When is a name no longer relevant?

What’s in a name?  When is a name no longer relevant?  If you honor someone with a “naming opportunity”, when can you decide that it’s been long enough, and write it off?  How has the meaning of the word “perpetuity” changed in our fast paced, newer is better, younger is fresher society – is institutional history no longer relevant?

“Dreams are like paper, they tear so easily.” – Gilda

Recently, the AP story referenced, above, caught my eye.  Yes, I will admit to being old enough to definitely remember Gilda Radner – from her stints on Saturday Night Live, to her struggles and ultimate demise from ovarian cancer which she fought in a terrifying array of tests and treatments. After her death, Gene Wilder established the Gilda Radner Foundation, primarily to raise awareness about the familial connection of certain cancers among people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.   In the immediate aftermath of her death, over 450 families signed on.   Today there are Gilda Clubs throughout the United States.

Radner died not in 1889 – but in 1989 – 23 years ago – and already people are saying that no one remembers her in the younger generation and the name of the Gilda Club organization should be changed to be more “relevant”.

“The goal is to live a full, productive life with with all that ambiguity.  No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days that you have had you will have lived.” – Gilda

About 15 years ago, when I worked for a nonprofit there was a wonderful radio DJ who was killed the evening he was to host a black tie gala, one of many efforts he spearheaded to raise funds for the American Heart Association.  We established the “Mike Sands Public Service Award for Radio” in his honor.  And was given annually to a radio personality who brought forward Mike’s commitments to philanthropy.  Then about 5 or 6 years later, I noticed that the award had simply been dropped.  No  one knew who Mike Sands was, or very few were left on the staff and among the volunteers of what had become a revolving door of people, for the name to “be relevant”.  I was heartbroken.  It was, after all, part of the institutional history of the organization, and also among radio personalities and stations.

You may recall a scandal at a law school that resulted in the law school’s name being changed – it went so far as to reissue certificates and diplomas to reflect an entirely different and new name of the school that wasn’t the name when the alums had attended.  They even provided the diplomas at no cost.  A move to virtually obliterate historical references.  You can huff and puff and blow the house down, but you can’t change what it was, when it was, and what came to be.

A successful technique of fundraising is to provide a naming opportunity for a large donor or company.  The Raymond Center at Providence College (bright Dominicans not to include the last name, Patriarca, the original donor), is one example.  Kudos to PC for sticking with it!  It is history – good, bad – or no longer significant – but it is our history.

History shows us where we came from, teaches us lessons, declares our successes and our mistakes.  So, how long is forever, ad infinitum, in perpetuity?  The fast paced world needs to heed the lessons of history, and it can do so, if we leave history open and there for people to discover, to analyze, critique, mock, or admire and seek to emulate.  We talk about role models and our lack of them in today’s world.  But we do not look back very far, not even to our grandparents era, do we look back.

What would Roseanna Roseannadanna say?  It might go something like this:

“It just goes to show ya, it’s always something.” – Roseanna

But, let’s recall, too, Gilda’s words as she fought so hard, and Wilder’s commitment to not making that fight be in vain, nor be forgotten:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.” – Gilda


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