What's in a name?

Human beings love to name things. A name serves as a convenient shorthand, identifying something without going into a long description. Some names aren’t obviously connected to what they name: “My doll’s name is Joseph.” Some are: “This room is the kitchen.” Some names change over time: “We’ve remodeled! Now the ‘den’ is our bedroom.’” Some don’t: “Next stop is ‘Key Junction,’” when there’s no longer a junction of any kind.

At Sudbury Valley, every room has a name. Occasionally the names change. Many of them tell a story about life at school, past and present.

Consider the Sewing Room. These days, any sewing at school takes place in the Art Room.

Roll back to the early years of the school. Traditional trades had become fashionable again. One parent was an accomplished seamstress, the real thing, and some of the older teenagers knew her and asked her to teach them how to sew substantial items of clothing, such as tailored coats. She was happy to oblige, but they needed a gigantic table on which to work. The only suitable place was the big room that stretches from the Playroom to the Seminar Room. And it happened to have a very long, very old table occupying much of its breadth. For two years, garments were fashioned on that table, and the room was christened, by universal acclaim, the “sewing room.” Today, of course, it is the locus of conversation, gaming, reading, and general exuberant activity -- but it’s still called the sewing room!

Then there is the Music Study Room (aka “The Music Study”), where nowadays one would look in vain for people engaged in the study of music. Again, we have to go back a long way to understand its name.

When the school opened, that room was one of the only ones that had wallpaper. Its walls were covered with striking, but faded paper featuring large red and blue flowers on a white background. The room was suitably named “The Flowered Lounge” -- until the old plaster-horsehair-wood lathe walls started coming apart under the paper. The underlying walls were covered with a new layer of wallboard and then painted, which rendered its name hopelessly irrelevant.

It so happened that the group that most enjoyed being in that room featured one young lady who was a talented transverse flute player. She took lessons outside of school, and spent hours every day practicing in that room, generally to the delight of all who heard her. This pleasant activity spawned a new name, “The Music Study Room.” After a couple of years, the young lady graduated, no replacement musicians appeared for that room, and musical activity shifted to other parts of the campus. But the name remained.

Then there is the room next to the Seminar Room (which itself actually has a name reflecting at least some of the activities that take place there). In the mid-70’s, that room was the school office. Very soon thereafter, it proved to be too cramped to serve as an office, and also too much in the center of noisy activity -- the Sewing Room! So the office was moved upstairs (more about that in a moment), and that room became . . . the “Old Office.” Not a very distinguished name, to be sure, but it stuck for  years.

Eventually, when the school finally decided that electronic media were not a passing fad, and TV and video were introduced into SVS, the Old Office became “the TV room” -- another noisy activity for the first floor. Several years after that, when the community became sensitive to criticism for allowing “screen time,” and after the basement had been remodeled and made habitable, the TV viewing moved down into the netherworld, and the room became the “Old TV room” -- again an “old” something! It is still waiting for a new name of its own.

So many stories. In 1968, the area between the Main Lounge and the Check-in Hall was just a passageway, adorned with exposed pipes of all lengths and shapes. Staff member Harry Hodgdon, caretaker of the library, set up his processing operation on a small table there, leading to that hall having the respectable title “Library Workroom.” Eventually, the pipes were boxed in, the walls finished, the floor carpeted, and furniture installed, with the color green by chance prevailing. Hence “the Green Lounge” of today -- no greener than the other downstairs rooms, most of which have green carpet.

The original office had quite a set of names over the years. Once it was no longer an office, and briefly an “old office” for the first time, it became the Leatherworking Room. As that interest faded, it went back to actually being the Office, and then eventually as the office moved on, the Old Office again. It’s currently known as The Red Couch Room.

What became of the room in which the school’s most recent Resident lived -- up until the 1990s? It became the Internet Room. And what is the room that has been known by no less than three names -- the Woodworking Room, the original Resident’s room, and the long-defunct Smoking Room? The Office.

It’s remarkable how much of the school’s evolution over time can be traced by simply delving into the history of names.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.