The Reverend Dr Rob Beamish, Chaplain of Rydal Penrhos, highlights the significance of the school’s recent term name changes.
Given all that is going on in the world right now the news that Rydal Penrhos has renamed its academic terms might not seem that significant, but I do think it is worth reflecting on. The three terms of the school year are now known as Advent, Lent and Trinity.
This change reflects the Methodist ethos of the school, and as Chaplain, I am of course not going to object to that! It would though be tempting to dismiss it simply as an exercise in being different, or a desire to align with other educational establishments that have long avoided more usual names, and thus to miss something of its broader significance.
Any change of a name matters as names simply matter, they carry inherent meaning and begin to shape how we relate to a person, event, object or place. My parents always taught me to ask people’s names in whatever relational context I am in as it does something to any potential power dynamic, the person who was once not known to us is now known in a fundamental way.
This knowing of a name, their name, communicates the inherent value of that individual to us in a moment where it can easily be lost when we are perhaps being served in a restaurant, a shop, or in a conversation with a distant call-centre employee.
The Ting Tings are an English indie-pop duo from Salford, formed in 2007, who immediately had a number one single with ‘That’s not my name.’ The lead singer Katie White wrote that the song was a response to how she had been treated by the music industry, venting that frustration when we are not properly named:
“They call me hell; They call me Stacey; They call me Her; They call me Jane; That’s not my name; That’s not my name; That’s not my name; That’s not my name.”
The repeat of ‘That’s not my name’ is particularly powerful as there is a repeat for each of the moments she is misnamed. Using someone’s proper name, however familiar or unfamiliar it may be, is a means of communicating that person’s value. So, it matters that people, events, objects and places are properly named.
Now we know that names of things do change for various reasons, but I still remember with horror (this shows my age) when Marathon bars became Snickers, the thing I thought I knew now seemed different even though the actual product was just the same. I realised that the name of the thing, a simple designator, actually carried the meaning for me, it provided the means to make sense of the content within.
This is why I think that reflecting on the changes to the term names here at Rydal Penrhos is worth a little of our time. You might not be bothered at all or you might think it is just another administrative tinkering, but it is a change designed to communicate the ethos of the school.
The change declares that on one level the seasonal rhythm of the school is shaped around the Christian calendar, and on the other that in those seasons we are pointed again and again to a God who in Luke 12:7 tells us that:
“Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Here is a beautiful picture of the value of each individual, and what better picture to shape an educational and relational approach that seeks to honour all who are part of Rydal Penrhos now or who used to call it home in some way.
Valuing one another might seem an obvious aspect of the Rydal Penrhos ethos to draw upon, and even more obvious for a school chaplain, but you may be reading this at a time when one country has decided that the value of another is not inherent and is even a threat. This desire to expand borders or to eliminate people groups looks to change names and even eliminate fundamental identity entirely.
So, names matter, but even more importantly it is the worth and value of the person, event, object or place they point to that matters the most and that is something we can never take for granted.
Keeping the value of all at the centre of the school ethos is not simply about keeping peace in a classroom or a sports field, but about shaping us all for when we are called to create and sustain peace in whatever situations we may find ourselves in.
Rev’d Dr Rob Beamish, Rydal Penrhos Chaplain