A school’s name is shorthand for a set of shared experiences—lived, hoped for—deeply understood across generational and other boundaries.
To those who have attended or who have been associated with any independent school, its very name will evoke that experience. To those who hope to be associated with or even those who just make reference to the school, the name will have meaning as a standard of comparison, as a place where something in particular exists or happens, or perhaps even as a conversational or social weapon—or shield.
Beyond brand and beyond mission, a school assumes in the individual mind an identity and existence through its name and through associations with that name. Consider the personal meaning a school’s name takes on for a graduate—prideful, happy, even sacramental, or bitter or sad; quite probably, because of the emotional complexities of childhood and adolescence, some combination of the all of these. In the community, the school’s name may reverberate as a symbol or even a mantra of power, privilege, exclusivity, excellence, or mediocrity. To parents, hope is encoded in the name, an incantation that represents all their wishes for the transformation of the student from child to successful, happy young adult.
The name of a school is magic, drawing power both from what the school actually is and does but even more from the miracle of human development and growth that takes place within it. Successful schools understand this and are continually engaged in work that sustains the magic, a balancing act that requires an exquisite sensitivity to what is authentic and not pretense, what is essential and not superfluous, and above all what is best for students and not for the school.
There is danger lurking in a name that has become invested, usually through the efforts of the school but sometimes accidentally, with so much power that it has come to define a Type or an “ideal.” When the notion of this ideal becomes so ponderous or so rigid as to stultify or warp students, or even the way in which students are seen and their school experience understood–even by themselves–it becomes time for Herculean efforts to liberate the school from the limiting power of its name.
(Expect 14 “verses” when all is said and done, BTW)