What’s In a Name? – Hillsdale College

Written by Mary Caroline Whims

When I was thinking about coming to Hillsdale, I was told that it was a very special place. “The students are genuinely kind people. We have something good here. You’ll see it in the smile that gets passed down the sidewalks.”

It’s true. It doesn’t matter whether they were on your hall freshman year, or you just took Western Theological Tradition together, students will often smile and wave when you walk past. As a junior, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m not just on the receiving end of those greetings. This is a Hillsdale tradition, and now that I’m established here, it’s on me to help it thrive. Our campus culture flourishes on everyday kindness and courtesy. And it goes beyond just saying hello.

I played basketball in high school. Since I’m a nerd, I also read books about it. One of my favorites is Stuff Good Players Should Know by Dick Divenzio. At one point, the book discusses how to communicate well with your teammates. As opposed to merely shouting, “Hey! I’m open!” Divenzio says that you should always call your teammate by name. You’ll get her attention more effectively, and you’ll build incredible team chemistry while you’re at it. “The sweetest sound in all the world is the sound of someone’s name,” Divenzio writes.

This is even more true on a college campus. There is something uniquely encouraging about hearing someone address you, not just with “Hello” or “Hi” or even “How’s it going?” but with your name. Your name is not something that can be said to anybody. It means that someone is talking to you.

I still remember instances during freshman year when I was wading through mounds of homework or navigating the bustling social scene that is the dining hall when someone—maybe even an upperclassman—started talking to me and used my name. This was always a pleasant surprise. It seems at the beginning of freshman year that you learn hundreds of names and then forget many of them, only to ask again months later, or endure the nagging awkwardness of not knowing. When someone actually remembered mine, I felt called out in the best of ways. Noticed. Seen. Even appreciated. It was a little thing, and yet it often led to striking up a good conversation, and developing a friendship.

At Hillsdale, we study hard. We memorize dates and tables and definitions. We fill our brains with scientific theories and historical figures. But some of the most important names we know belong to the people around us.

When you call someone by name, you’re going a little bit beyond what’s required by social convention. It’s a way of saying, “I see you. Not just you, you person on the sidewalk, but you, Sara, Danny, Tim,” etc. Remembering is the first step toward knowing, and from there, toward loving.

So let’s keep calling each other by our names. May that small action continue to forge our campus into a community that, like any good sports team, cares for each of its members. And may that help us to accomplish great things here. As we pursue greater authenticity and deeper friendships, we make our college in southern Michigan a little more tight-knit and a little more like it was meant to be.

Mary Caroline Whims Mary Caroline Whims, ’21, studies English at Hillsdale College, where she serves as editor-in-chief of Fool’s Talk magazine. On a given day, you can find her playing in an intramural basketball game, waxing poetic about church windows, or postponing homework to make a good conversation last longer.

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