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Bert Montgomery: ‘The ‘Neau’ will always be ‘The W’ to me


Bert Montgomery



My cousin, Jenene, is joining the faculty of the University of Illinois at Springfield. She tells people she graduated from "The W," which is and shall always be, true. But when people try to look up "The W" from now on, they''ll have a hard time finding it. "The W" (sometimes referred to as the Mississippi University for Women) is in the process of having its name changed to Reneau University. 


Drastic name changes are not uncommon. We all know that it''s Istanbul, not Constantinople; that it''s John Mellencamp, not John Cougar; and that it''s back to Prince, not The-Artist-Formerly-Known-as-Prince (unpronounceable symbol) after first not being Prince. 


I will forever refer to Memphis State University as "Memphis State University"; I still cannot get used to the "University of Memphis" (for one, U of M reminds me too much of Ole Miss). I have several friends who graduated from Memphis State, not from just "Memphis"; and, besides, for two days I was a member of the Memphis State Band, never the University of Memphis Band. My sons, however, don''t remember Memphis State, and with great aggravation they continue to correct me, "It''s the University of Memphis!" Sorry, folks, but it''s "Memphis State." 


My father still refers to Hattiesburg''s institution of higher learning as "Mississippi Southern"; I''ve never known it as nor called it anything other than Southern Miss. To which Dad replies, "sorry, folks, but it''s ''Mississippi Southern.'' " 


On the other hand, I know of nobody who went to Mississippi A&M, and today we all proudly proclaim our love for and devotion to Mississippi State University ("Hail dear ol'' State!"). 


For the most part, it seems almost everyone has weathered such name changes fairly well.  


There are some notable exceptions, though. Take, for example, the incredible 1969 debut by the rock group Chicago Transit Authority, which, due to the unhappiness of the actual transit powers-that-be in Chicago, had to change their name to just "Chicago," and thus began a slow, two-decade decline into painfully mediocre pop music.  


But that was nothing compared to what happened when the rock group Jefferson Airplane changed its name. In short, the revolutionary Jefferson Airplane eventually became the very good Jefferson Starship, which degenerated into simply, Starship. People can enjoy "We Built This City" all they want, and had it been from just a one-hit wonder pop-radio group, it wouldn''t seem so awful; but coming from the direct lineage of the Airplane . . . well, it''s enough to make me thankful for the mediocre 1980s Chicago. 


In both literature and film there are several examples where drastic name changes correlate with drastically unpleasant changes in character: Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde; Sméagol becomes Gollum; Benjamin Barker becomes Sweeney Todd; and Norman Bates becomes his mother, Mrs. Bates (well, sort of). 


Scriptures, too, are fond of giving people new names, usually to good results: Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, and Saul becomes Paul. 


Yes, sometimes name changes are tricky and can be disastrous, but sometimes they can be quite transformative (for the good of everyone). 


Lest we forget, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli became the renowned Pope John XXIII, who gave the world the great Second Vatican Council and opened "the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air."  


Which brings me back to the Mississippi University for Women. I think "The W" will survive and maybe even thrive. Cousin Jenene will certainly have trouble referring to her alma mater as something other than "The W,"; and people my age and older will never really make the adjustment - the-potentially-soon-to-be-named Reneau University will always remain "The W," much like Memphis State will always be, well, "Memphis State." 


For this present generation, perhaps a transitional "The University Formerly-Known-As-the-Mississippi University for Women" will be helpful. And of course, the next generation, not being used to referring to the Mississippi University for Women as "the W," will likely have no problem fondly referring to Reneau University as "The ''Neau." 


For the sake of all present and future students, I sure hope so. 


As for me, I''m going to thank God for how much "The W" means to my cousin and my family, and then turn up the volume on Jefferson Airplane''s "Somebody to Love." 


Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]


Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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Reader Comments

Article Comment Khristina commented at 8/22/2009 4:54:00 PM:

Check out this petition students have started to keep the W from becoming RU!!!
Sign it and support a Tradition!


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