The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

What’s in a name?

When I was in college, I decided to try something. I changed my name. Well, I went by a different name – my middle name. I bear my maternal grandfather’s name as my middle name, and for I time I decided to alter my life a little and go by “Jacob” instead of “Steve”. I signed documents as “S. Jacob Sekula”, so that legally my name was intact. I asked my friends to call me by my middle name. I was looking for a new identity, a way to shrug off the awkwardness of my teenage self and usher in a more noble future.

It was a disaster. I started sophomore year with my name listed as “Jacob” on class rosters. When TAs called my name, I forgot to answer. I forgot who I was. My friends got confused, and I got confused. It seemed like a good idea, a way to symbolize a new beginning as I matured in college. In reality, it was an ill-chosen symbol. I learned that there are far better things to do than tamper with a 20-year-old name, just to symbolize a change.

Recently, the Department of Energy has wanted to change SLAC’s name so they can trademark it, even though Stanford clearly defends its trademark. DOE has also argued that “Linear Accelerator Center” no longer completely describes the lab’s mission, even though most of the lab’s funding in the next decade will be for the Linac Coherent Light Source, where “Linac” is short for “Linear Accelerator”.

Even the local papers are beginning to take notice of this episode [1].

What’s in a name? When it’s stood for something great for over forty years, what’s in a name is everything you aspire to be. I’m proud to be Stephen. Why can’t the DOE be proud of SLAC? After all, I don’t have four Nobel prizes, and I sure am fond of my name.

[1] Stanford physicists see red over fed’s plan to rename lab