Naming a legacy one noun at a time

PHOTO: Travis Wise, Flickr CC-BY

Humans didn’t create the world, but we do get to name the things we find here.

We name our kids for our dads and our dogs for 19th Century burlesque performers. Someone called it “phlegm” and then invented the spelling. The ancients named “steel” and “stone” with nice sturdy words, but also called some tiny birds “tits,” and then insisted that no one laugh.

People named Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Walla Walla, Washington. Worcester is a place and a sauce, but you don’t say it that way. You say it the other way. 

You could spend a lifetime learning how people, places, and things got their names, and some folks do. But one thing we don’t get to do very often is name places for the first time.

For the last few years I’ve been a part of a committee at Hibbing Community College charged with naming several of our buildings and public spaces. (Disclosure: I’m a full time instructor at the college). 

Currently, HCC’s buildings are named for letters. My office is in “C,” but I teach in “F.” Two years ago we tore down “G” so we could renovate “A.” These names are neither inspiring nor clear.

So we went through a long process. We invited nominations for dozens of different potential buildings and interior spaces. Our main requirement was that the name be related to the college or community. We received hundreds of suggestions.

Some names were no brainers. Rudy Perpich was not only the first Iron Ranger to serve as governor, but he was a Hibbing Junior College alumnus and the first president of the HCC Foundation. Our student center will be named for Perpich. 

Other names emerged from research and fresh perspective. One of the names I’m most proud of came from my research of early Hibbing for my ongoing book project. 

Hattie Mosley was a pioneering nurse at the Rood Hospital and the first Black woman to relocate to Hibbing permanently. She delivered critical care during the flu epidemics of the early 20th Century and provided free medical care to the poor immigrants who lived in the periphery of the bustling village of Hibbing.

I know that Hattie Mosley, who died in 1938, would never have expected a building to be named for her. But that’s what I loved most about that actually happening. From now on, my office will be in Mosley Hall, along with the nursing program and several other important things.

Many wonderful people and stories will be honored during this naming process, too many to share in this week’s column. But I encourage you to learn more by coming to the renaming ceremony later this week. 

The naming event will be held at Hibbing Community College on Friday, Oct. 8. The ceremony begins at the newly named Wenberg Theater at 4 p.m. and will transition to the Hill of Three Waters Commons. I’m told there will be food. Another brief ceremony will be held at the freshly dubbed Varichek Gymnasium before the 6:30 volleyball game to acknowledge the new names for the sports facilities.

One thing I noticed about the naming process was the pressure of our work. Every detail about the names seemed to carry extra weight simply because the word processing document I was working on would soon become bronzed. We weren’t just naming things; we were creating a lasting legacy.

Why don’t we think that way about everything? The way we treat our families and neighbors today is part of our legacy. The way we do our job on Monday is our legacy. Even the next comment we post online could qualify as our legacy. 

Anyway, we might not spend much time thinking about legacy, but if we acted as though our actions were permanent we might create a wonderful legacy without even knowing it. 

Heck, you might even get a building named after you. Not that you’d know. Most of our honorees are dead (except for two, who know who they are). After all, legacy isn’t really in the name of a building. It’s in the life we lead.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.