Michael Li / Sun Staff Photographer

Behind how Cornell plans to name its buildings, are the friends and family of founders as well as donors.

February 27, 2020

From Sage to McGraw: How Buildings on Cornell’s Campus Get Their Names

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Cornell’s campus is littered with buildings new and old, as the designing and construction of the various buildings across campus span across decades and sometimes centuries. However, aside from their intricate plans, the process of naming the buildings can also be complex.

“Campus buildings and spaces are often named in recognition of the alumni, parents, and friends whose generosity makes high-quality facilities possible for our students and faculty,” said Fred Van Sickle, vice president of alumni affairs and development, in an email to The Sun.

This is the case for most buildings on campus, as they are based primarily on monetary contributions. Buildings such as Rockefeller Hall, Baker Laboratory and Gates Hall are named after business tycoons John Rockefeller, George Baker and Bill Gates made significant donations.

A large percentage of buildings on campus were also named to honor Cornell’s founders, Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson-White, as well as their family and close friends.

In addition to Llenroc — the former Interfraternity Council chapter that dons Cornell’s last name backwards — and A.D. White Hall, Clara Dickson Hall is named after White’s mother whereas the Sage and Olin families were close friends of the Cornells and even buried both founders and their wives in Sage Chapel.

However, money is not the only means of getting one’s name on a building. Buildings are also named in honor of several philanthropists and highly regarded professors.

Most West Campus houses are named after past faculty members who had a major impact on the University. Rose House is named after Flora Rose, the co-founder of the College of Human Ecology and Bethe House was named to honor Nobel-prize winning physicist Hans Bethe.

Even the Ag Quad is almost entirely filled with buildings that honor early administrators and faculty like Roberts Hall and Mann Library, named after the first dean of the College of Agriculture Isaac Roberts Hall and the first Cornell provost Albert R. Mann 1904.

The the iconic clock tower that sits on Central Campus was also not necessarily purchased but was rather given as a gift of goodwill. In 1868, Jennie McGraw donated the chimes that now play in McGraw Tower in honor of her father, philanthropist John McGraw. In her honor, the first song played at every morning Cornell Chimes concert is “Cornell Changes,” also known as the “Jennie McGraw Rag”.

Ultimately, the decision for building naming is made by various deans, university leaders and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. With new buildings being made in the North Campus Residential Expansion project, the Board will have more naming decisions to make.