"Constantine College": what's in a name?
I have been thinking a bit recently about what names we choose to give to educational establishments. It was prompted I guess by Radegund Hall at Coleridge Community College. Was it after the road or the pub ("Radegund Road" "Radegund Arms" etc)? Or was it after the saint? And, if so, did I think that was a bit non-multicultural?
Answer was, no I didn't.
Lets leave aside the fact that -- much as I admire Nelson Mandela's achievements and lessons for us (who couldn't?) -- I have got a bit fed up with the "Mandela Halls" springing up all over the country. Something of a band wagon effect I can't help thinking. That "Radegund" reference goes right to the heart of women's power in the early Middle Ages, and brings back to the attention of generations of school students a wonderful and feisty role model who isn't often remembered (she needs her hall, Mandela probably doesnt).
Anyway just as I was reflecting on this, I discovered that the University of York is intending to call its new college, "Constantine College", after the Roman ruler proclaimed emperor there in 306 AD.
At this point I began to feel a bit iffy.
The truth is I rather like the remembering the ancients, and indeed remembering that the ancients (Romans, I mean) really did tread our green and pleasant land. But, but, but...
For a start I'm a bit uncomfortable about the way that Constantine is being presented on the York Uni website:
"Our ninth college bears his name, not just as a celebration of York’s Romanitas, but also to define Constantine as a college with great character and vision."
"Romanitas" is one of those weirdly fashionable modern coinages. Hardly any Roman used ever the word (at least before Tertullian, early Christian activist), but it has become a slogan of a lot of modern scholarship -- who conveniently forget that, to all intents and purposes, it goes back to Mussolini. I have to say that there isn't a chance in hell that York (or any place in Britain) symbolised Romanitas (whatever that means ) in any period of antiquity.
If we want to say that there is an important Roman heritage in York, that is fine .. but Romanitas, no thanks.
I also feel more doubtful about Constantine's credentials as a "naming opportunity" anyway. Pretty brutal civil war leader, and the origin (though not to be fair the sole driver) of state Christian power. Character and vision? Who knows?
On the other hand, names (thank heavens) are eventually, in the fullness of time, just names. If I did some work, I could probably tell you just how ghastly the "named founders" of Cambridge colleges were.
And when I was a kid I used to walk up "Kennedy Road" in Shrewsbury, thinking it must have been named after the President -- when actually it was after Benjamin Hall Kennedy author (with some help from his daughters) of Kennedy's Latin Primer, and Professor of Greek at the Uni of Cambridge.
Who might "Constantine" be thought to be in 200 years? Your guess is as good as mine.