Origins of name shifts from aristocracy to nature


Last Thursday Lord Fairfax Community College announced that their re-naming task force had identified its top five choices for a new college name. The frontrunners to replace Lord Fairfax are Valley & Vista, Red Oak, Laurel Ridge, Valley & Ridge and Newbridge.


The decision to change the LFCC’s name came in February following a months-long review by the college’s board. After widespread national protests against systemic racism in 2020, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) recommended that the state’s community colleges “join this conversation and focus a high level of scrutiny on the names that adorn our facilities.”


“We have certain names on our buildings that many, I think, would say are inappropriate,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of VCCS, during a July board meeting. “Those are names our students see every day. … Some of our colleges are named after slave holders and segregationists.”


Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, after whom Lord Fairfax Community College was named in 1969, is best known as a friend of George Washington’s and a British loyalist in the Revolutionary War. He also enslaved and traded dozens of people. 


The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in March to send a letter to state authorities expressing its disapproval of the name change. Earlier this month, supervisors in Frederick County voted 5-1 to do the same.


LFCC is joined in changing its name by two other community colleges in the state: Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va., named after a member of the first General Assembly who was the heir to tremendous wealth from the Yorktown slave trade; and John Tyler Community College in Chester, Va., named after the 10th president of the United States and a slave owner who was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.  


“We have no interest in erasing history or canceling history,” said Chris Coutts, vice president of communications and planning at LFCC. “The question for us as an organization, as a school, is, does that name belong to us going forward? … The question for us is, does that name help us in our mission bringing new students? And the answer to that, from a brand marketing perspective is no. It actually harms that.”


Not only does Lord Fairfax’s name fail to resonate with students and staff, Coutts said, but it is also geographically confusing. Even in 1969, the state college board repeatedly rejected the proposed name for the college “since the name might lead to confusion with Fairfax County.”


According to the college, students, staff, alumni and members of the community submitted more than 100 new names for consideration. 


“Overwhelmingly, the community input centered around the breathtaking beauty of the natural surroundings for which the LFCC service region is known,” said Kelly O’Keefe, CEO of Brand Federation, in a press release. “They sought names that were both anchored to geographic features of the Shenandoah Valley region and reflective of the values that unite the college, its students and its community.” O’Keefe and her colleagues at Brand Federation are working with the college during this transition period.


The college offered the following explanations for each of the proposed names: 


Valley & Vista Community College

  • The task force thought the name was unifying and inclusive of the entire service region.

  • It brings to mind an upward progression, much like the academic journey and broader horizons our students explore.

  • Vista has inspirational connotations.


Red Oak Community College

  • More than half of the forest in Shenandoah National Park consists of red oaks, and the strength and towering stature of the trees represent the growth and opportunity provided by the college.

  • Oak trees have historical and cultural significance. Kings wore crowns of oak leaves, and the tree signifies strength in the Bible.


Laurel Ridge Community College

  • Laurels grow abundantly within the college’s service area, which also features distinctive mountain ridges.

  • Laurel is also a verb meaning “to bestow an award or praise in recognition of an achievement, often academic.”

  • The ancient Greeks presented laurel wreaths to athletes, poets and war heroes.

  • As the upper edge of a mountain range, ridge can serve as a metaphor for the level of success and range of opportunities offered by the college.


Valley & Ridge Community College

  • One of the regions of Virginia, west of the Blue Ridge and east of the Appalachian Plateau Region, is the Valley & Ridge Region.

  • The name unites the service regions while paying tribute to the natural landscape.


Newbridge Community College

  • A recurring theme among comments and stories from students and alumni was that the college gave them a new outlook and a new start. The word “new” speaks to new beginnings.

  • “Bridge” can refer to where students are now and where they’d like to be in the future.


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