Many alumni probably remember Ed Christman’s “What’s in a Name” orientation speech, in which he used the names of freshmen to welcome them to Wake Forest. “I never learned all 1,000 names, but I did do about 250,” said Christman (’51, JD ’53), who retired as chaplain in 2003. “My goal was to say that you matter enough for me do this.” Following is a condensed version of his 1988 speech. (For more on Christman’s service to Wake Forest, visit www.edchristman.com)
What’s in a name and what’s in a place? Your names and your places are now connected with this name and this place. So let’s see if we can make some of those connections specific, bearing in mind that phonetic spelling is allowed a chaplain in an occasion like this.
For the first time in the years that I have been here, my namesake is in the audience. Thirty-nine years ago I was in that audience after getting off the train with a wardrobe trunk, one of a handful of Floridians who had come to the town of Wake Forest and Wake Forest College. Oddly enough, that morning I ate breakfast with a person who had come on the train from the other direction, Massachusetts. See, I have a namesake from Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Maybe we can have breakfast. We might even invite the 63 Floridians and the nine other persons from the Bay State to join us.
Your name is significant even if it is thought of as a common name. Tims, Smiths and Johnsons, nine Joneses, eight persons named Brown and Martin and Davis. Six people named Wilson or White. Five people named Harris. Four named Anderson, Brooks, Clark or Hall, and there are three people named Williams. Interestingly enough, there is one person named Moore, no more. There is one person named Person. There is a person from the town of Wake Forest where Wake Forest College began.
Sometimes the names and the connections are obvious. Sometimes the connections are because they are contrasts. For example, we have two Skulls and a Cross but no bones in the freshmen class. We have a Day and Knight, and of course the Knight is Polite although he pronounces it Po-leet, and there is a Palace to live in. There is a Brush but no comb. There is a Cobb but no corn. There is Bigger, not littler. There is Fulton but no steam. There is Green, but there is not any blue. There is Kodak but there is no Canon for the Atlanta Braves fans. There is Least but not most. There is Parr but unfortunately no birdies. There is Sharp but not dull. There is Venable and not ignorant.
The admissions office has done a wonderful job. There are some people here named Goode. There is no one in the class named bad. There is a Vann in this class, and there is a Packard. Do you know what a Packard is? I’ll give you a clue. There is also a Ford, and there are three other presidents, Carter, Eisenhower and Nixon. There is perhaps in the freshman class an answer to prayer. For you see, sitting amongst you there is a real live Michael Jordan.
Sooner or later I have to make connections in this class with names and places that are religious. So we have a Daniel. We have a Mark, and we have a Paul. We’ve got one Lord, I believe in that. He’s Divine. Yes, he comes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But the two other people from Bethlehem, they’re not named Divine. They’re Jones boys. Now actually I don’t know whether any of them are divine. I rather doubt that any of us are.
In this class, of course, you’ve got some religious places. I’ve already mentioned, Bethlehem. There is Luthersville for the Lutherans. There is Salem for the Quakers. We have one Christmas, which of course reminds us of the Moravian Love Feast which is held here on the first Sunday in December. Of course, Christmas makes you think about lambs. So we’ve got two Lambs and a Kidd. There are two Shepherds to look after them and would you believe it there is a place, Shepherdsville. Lastly but not least, we’ve got a Pope.
Some of the names are not like Smith and Johnson. There is Constantino, Hardavich and Zahn and Zopf, and Tardish. There are some names that may arouse a little attention, Graves, Coverstones. We’ve got Nill and we’ve got Nall in the freshman class. As if that weren’t enough we’ve got Nealy as well.
I hope that by now you’re beginning to understand that this business about names and places is not to use one of your names for little. I hope this is getting to be clear. I know there would be one person out there who is Leary of this whole thing, but I can’t help that because that’s their name.
There is a Cook in the freshman class. There is a Taylor and a Shoemate. There are three Masons. There are six Millers and five Bakers. There are a couple of pollsters. Well, they may not be pollsters, but there are two people named Nielson in the freshman class. There is a Fisher, he’s got some Hooks and he just caught a Bass. Your job, your vocation relating to your name may be something that you will ask yourself about. But do I really want to be a Cooper. Indeed, do you know what a Cooper is? Do you know anything about literature? Would you like to be a Hawthorne or a Shaw? Would you like to be a musician like Ellington or Lombardi.
Your name is your badge of honor. It is because you are unique in the sight of God. It is because you are now in a position we hope, with our help, to shape the meaning of that name and its future.