What's in a Name?

In my mind’s eye, I saw an avalanche over a year ago when I heard the Red Rats were going to change their House name. From what I understood at the time, the idea was concocted when a general disgust over the “rat-faced Mona Lisa” mural finally urged residents to suggest replacing it. Though ugly, I found the mural endearing in its ability to display the title of Red Rat, its gaze demanding the attention of every visitor to the fourth and fifth floors. Regardless, the idea was eventually proposed that if they were going to change the mural, why not rename the house as well?

When that little stone was passed my way, I was too flabbergasted to speak—but as always, the urge quickly passed. I then started speaking loudly, to any that would listen, about the horrible decision the House was making. This wasn’t just a matter of me disliking change; it was an affront to tradition itself!

This isn’t the first time Houses have changed their name, though. When Tatham Hall was first built, each House was named by numbers (First House, Second House, etc.). They were rather boring, to say the least, but it wasn’t until Master George Tatham moved-in and said, “Say, why not improve our House spirit and invoke a little Canadian patriotism at the same time?” that they renamed all the Houses, based on famous Canadian writers. Since then, each house has gone through at least one name change, but each time the switch was accompanied with a reason, a connection to its residents (both past and present), and more importantly, a story.

A House’s name is one of the only links it and its residents have to those stories of people that have come before them. As I witnessed myself, in a university residence, people come and people definitely go (with only a select few sticking it out for long). There are constantly new faces, fresh minds, and the inevitable “changing of the guard” as the old fogies from earlier times fade away for the next batch of up and coming whippersnappers. I know I’ve gone on about their being history in those walls, so I won’t bore you again; but there’s a huge heritage in each House—and it’s a largely unknown one.

Who remembers the stories of Cale’s drums, William Big, Jenca’s shark experience, and “socket hockey”? (Okay, I do, but I’ve already moved out.) But there are so many more stories that have fallen out of our collective memories; and worse yet are the ones I know, but see fading the same way. I mean, what ever happened to the Swines?

There’s no written history of Tatham Hall; everything is oral tradition, passed from resident to resident (with the occasional documentation in the ever-loved MacMedia). But as I said, with the constant turn-over of students, it’s difficult to keep each story alive. And with no constants, no yearly campfire gathering, who shall play the shaman and pass these stories, these traditions, on? A story is made by an experience, something we all contribute to, but the tale is only recalled with a question—and who will remember to ask?

As a storyteller, it disturbs me that so much will disappear, but I can take a glimmer of solace in knowing there will always be that one question inevitably asked in each House, every single year: “So...why are we called the Fugitives?” A House name is more than just a label—it’s a trigger for a communal memory that exists both behind and before us. To cast away that heritage so whimsically is to deny not only yourself, but future residents, a connection to this communal past.

As I feared, the Red Rats were merely the first stones before an avalanche, trickling down the mountain side. Soon, the mighty Tornadoes followed, casting aside their identity in exchange for three lesser ones. As mutterings about pirates and ninjas began in my own House, I knew I had to do something to hold onto our heritage. I would not watch as the building’s access to an entire history was thrown away on a cascading whim. But how does one stop an avalanche after the first stones have fallen? What can an individual do but clear out of its path, survive, and remember? For once the final rock has hit and the dust billows through the air, those pieces can be gathered, carried back up the mountain, and put into their rightful place.

(You see, to my utmost joy, I have learned that both the Red Rats and the Tornadoes—encouraged by individuals like-minded to myself—have reaccepted their names as proper House titles, and made this experience like a dream come morning; my thanks to all of you for avoiding the landslide.)