November 19th @ Free Times Café

William Shakespeare was an inquisitive guy. Think about it, “To be or not to be?” “Hark what light from yonder window breaks?” And the one I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, “What’s in a name?”

And before I get too into this last question, I’m guessing that little Billy Shakespeare probably bothered everyone around him asking tons of questions when he was a kid. Things like, “Prithee, why is the sky this particular shade of cerulean?” Or perhaps, “Verily if one doth burpeth and farteth at the same time is it true that one will die before the morrow, if not immediately?” He must have been a handful.

To get back to the “What’s in a name” question; the reason I’ve been thinking about it is because of an article I read recently. Apparently, the Queen’s Engineering Faculty received a $100 million donation. That’s right, $100 million or to put fully numerically, $100,000,000 – that’s a lot of zeros following the 1.

The person who gave this donation got the right to name the entire Engineering Faculty. Yep, not just naming a building, or a lecture hall, or a bunch of study carrels, or washroom stalls, but naming the whole darn faculty. And this is where my concern arises. You see the person who made this massive donation is named Stephen Smith, and when given the opportunity to rename the entire faculty he chose the name Smith Engineering.

Now I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with the name Smith, it’s a perfectly fine name but it’s hardly unique. Not only is it not unique, Smith is, in fact, the most common last name in all of Canada. As it turns out, slightly more than 1 in 200 people have the last name Smith (and I know that’s true because I looked it up online and Google would never lie to me). And this is where the problem arises.

There are 5,000 students currently enrolled at Smith Engineering. That means, if 1 in 200 has the last name Smith, then there are 25 current students in the program who can all pretend that they or their father or their uncle or their aunt or someone related to them made the donation and created Smith Engineering. And there are over 28,000 students at Queens altogether meaning that 140 of them could plausibly claim that the faculty was named after one of their kith or kin. And that’s not counting all the alumni.

Even more problematic, when the real Stephen Smith, or his relations, walk along the grounds of Queen’s to Smith Engineering and proudly say “I (or my dad, uncle, bubbe, whatever) gave this donation to the Engineering Department, people would be right to be skeptical. “Sure, Mr. Moneybags, how do we know it was you – it could have been anyone, or at least anyone named Smith.” And since there are 38,000,000 people in Canada that means the donor could credibly be any one of 190,000 people.

This “What’s in a name” conundrum makes me glad that we settled on Gordon’s Acoustic Living Room as our name when we started out in the music biz 53 years ago. Now it’s true that we have not accrued $100 million in earnings, but on the other hand, no one is going to confuse us with any other band on the planet (and that seems like a fair trade off).

We will next be treading the boards at the Free Times Café (College just west of Spadina) on Sunday, November 19. There will be at least nine of us on stage, so pretty much the full band (at our September show there were five of us and a special guest so we were perhaps more Gordon’s Acoustic Mud Room than Living Room). And by “full band” I do mean that the bagpipes will be back – just thought I should warn you.

And as a special treat, there will be no cover because our very own flute, saxophone, and guitar playing singer Wayne Smith (no relation to Stephen Smith – or maybe he is related to a Stephen Smith but not that Stephen Smith – or who knows, maybe he is related to that Stephen Smith) has asked that it be waived. He’s not covering your food and drinks though, he’s not made of money (or maybe he is, after all he’s a Smith).

Hope to see you there.


P.S. I thought I should remind/warn folks that January 25 – Robbie Burns Day – is on a Thursday this year and we are planning to celebrate it back at the Free Times. So as that all-bagpipe night creeps ever closer let us remember the words of the immortal Bard “Hark, what caterwauling doth emerge from that café, it is the bagpipes, and they make a truly unholy racket” (or words to that effect).