More deliberation needed in naming public buildings

It seems rather common nowadays to have public buildings named after individuals and corporations (The ethics of naming buildings after luminaries; June 3).

For commercial entities, the purpose is clear - namely, it serves to raise the profile of the organisation. This motivation is transparent and generally acceptable.

On the other hand, naming a public building or institution after an individual is quite a different matter. For instance, the naming of a public institution, such as a faculty in a university or a hospital, should lead one to remember and be inspired by the contribution of the individual in that specific sphere of work.

This contribution, which is often the culmination of a life's work, is truly what makes for a meaningful christening.

Positive examples include Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and, most recently, the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business.

The naming of various university faculties and buildings after the late philanthropist Lee Kong Chian - the founder of the Lee Foundation, which has consistently provided financial aid to students and to the cause of education in general - is also appropriate.

On the other hand, if the naming is for an individual to gain some sense of "immortality" and publicity, then it would make sense for the governing bodies to have a serious rethink, as there are surely other ways to acknowledge an act of philanthropy.

The naming of a public institution, such as a faculty in a university or a hospital, should lead one to remember and be inspired by the contribution of the individual in that specific sphere of work. This contribution, which is often the culmination of a life's work, is truly what makes for a meaningful christening.

Moreover, some philanthropists prefer to remain discreet, believing that "when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing".

Finally, assigning names without due care or deliberation inadvertently denigrates the memory of those who have been bestowed such a solemn honour on account of their work.

Daniel Ng Peng Keat (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'More deliberation needed in naming public buildings'. Print Edition | Subscribe