What’s in a name?

Previously Published: Dhaka Tribune

The recent proposal to change the name of BRAC University to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed University has sparked diverse opinions and discussions. While I acknowledge the complexities associated with renaming an established institution, I find it disheartening that the focus has shifted to scrutinizing the name itself. It is crucial to examine the context and consider the profound impact of an individual like Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who dedicated his life to creating positive change globally.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC, was a visionary and a trailblazer in the fight against poverty. His extraordinary dedication and unwavering commitment to social development have had a transformative impact not only in Bangladesh but also globally. BRAC University, as an institution built upon his vision, serves as a testament to his indelible contributions.

Scrolling through social media, I encountered hundreds of arguments against the name change and suggestions for alternative options, some reasonable but most in a sarcastic manner. However, I believe that naming a university after its founder is in no way less respectable than associating it with the name of an NGO. It is disconcerting to witness the prevalence of foreign names being readily accepted while our own cultural icons are subject to scepticism.

Many esteemed universities worldwide bear the names of their founders or benefactors, and this tradition carries a sense of legacy and recognition. For instance, Cornell University was named after Ezra Cornell, a philanthropist who co-founded the institution. Rice University was named in honour of businessman William Marsh Rice, who left a substantial endowment for its establishment. Duke University pays tribute to Washington Duke, a tobacco magnate and philanthropist. These examples highlight how the naming of universities after notable figures elevates their reputation and signifies the enduring impact they have made.

Renaming universities is not a new phenomenon but rather a long-practiced tradition all over the world to pay homage to their founders or benefactors that symbolizes respect, recognition, and a lasting legacy. Even the mighty Harvard University that we know, was originally named “New College” before being changed to Harvard College in honour of its benefactor, John Harvard, who bequeathed half of his estate and his personal library of 400 books. This transformation eventually led to the establishment of Harvard University.

Critics of the proposed name change should reflect on their reactions. If the founder of BRAC were George Hopkins or McGill, and the university’s name was being changed to George Hopkins University or McGill University, it is unlikely that the same level of scrutiny and opposition would arise. Thus, it becomes evident that the underlying issue lies not in changing the name itself, but in discomfort with a Bengali-sounding name that highlights the need for introspection as a nation.

In my view, objecting to renaming the university after Sir Fazle Hasan Abed is disrespectful to the man himself and the global impact he had. This reflects a broader problem within our nation, where we devalue our own people and Bengali culture, particularly when it comes to names. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed’s remarkable accomplishments in eradicating poverty and advancing education surpass those of many individuals globally, yet we readily accept foreign names while hesitating to honour our own.

We owe it to ourselves as a nation to honour and celebrate our own Bengali heroes.

As a nation, we should celebrate and take pride in our Bengali heritage, including our people and their accomplishments. Late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed is perhaps the last person who deserves scrutiny and mockery. For those unfamiliar with his work, I strongly encourage you to learn about his legacy and the positive impact he had on society at large.

The proposal to rename BRAC University as Sir Fazle Hasan Abed University is commendable, marking the start of a new tradition. Every nation owes recognition to visionaries who dedicate their lives to transforming lives, eradicating poverty, and contributing to the progress of the nation. I suggest that our nation consider and normalize naming universities or departments after legends such as Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam, Justice Abu Saeed Chowdhury, Muhammad Ibrahim, engineer Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, architect Mazharul Islam, filmmaker Zaheer Raihan, and other individuals of similar stature in their respective fields.

Instead of fixating on the name itself, let us recognize and appreciate these exceptional individuals who have made significant contributions to society. By doing so, we can promote our own Bengali culture and honor those who have shaped our nation’s identity.

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