Latin: /'vɒks pɒpjʉliː/ VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

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Monday, August 23, 2010

" 'Prefect' perfect" by Len Botha

A trait of society that I find particularly annoying is the tendency to make unnecessary name changes. In a manner this has been discussed often recently due to the decision to move away from using the term Prefect. I think that people are not annoyed as much by the change in name as by the perceived loss in status. Let's be honest, being a Prefect sounds much better than being a Portfolio Leader. But I can understand why the school thinks it is a good idea for the name to change.

The word Prefect, according to Pocket Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as being "A senior pupil who is appointed to enforce discipline in a school". I agree with the decision-makers in the school that this sounds very much like a policeman and is not what the spirit of the job is about anymore; I disagree that a name change is necessary. Not only is it moving away from something that is tried and tested but doing so may detract from the pride Prefects have about their positions. When making a decision like this it is important to consider why it is being made and to ensure that it be made for the right reasons.

The jobs that Prefects at the College carry out are very different from the definition given above, except for in assembly and Chapel where enforcing discipline is exactly what the Prefects are expected to do, despite the fact that we are apparently allowed to talk quietly. I see no reason that the definition of the word cannot be adjusted to suit the times. English is still, contrary to popular belief, a developing language. Apart from the job not suiting the common definition of the word anymore I think that the desire to change the name is also due to 'peer-pressure' from other schools and institutions.

Every time the name changing is discussed with students the speaker is always sure to mention that we are not the only school to move away from using the term Prefect. I think they mean this to be reassuring, to let us know that it isn't only us who are taking the plunge. Personally, all this tells me is that we are not very good at coming up with original ideas. Instead, we are more like sheep that just follow where others have gone before. To me, changing the name because other schools are doing it, and because it updates our school's image, sounds very much like giving into peer-pressure, which I am sure you have all been told in Life Orientation can be a very bad thing to do. However, I think it is important to point out that I am not against all name changes.

It can often occur that a name may pick up negative connotations, or may become completely obsolete. In a case like this, I think it is appropriate to change the name to something more acceptable, in order to avoid conflict. An example of this would be the renaming of streets which - due to Apartheid - had offensive names. This helped to alleviate conflict and racial tensions. However, examples of unnecessary name changes were the renaming of streets and places that were not offensive. The unnecessary renaming of such places made many people angry and caused more problems than it solved. Therefore I think any name change should be considered very carefully before being executed.


  1. I agree. Not only that, my previous perception of a Prefect was, in actual fact a leader of school spirit and values. Which is actually exactly what the school wants the leadership team to embody.

    Another factor is that, if you have not noticed, everyone still calls the leadership team Prefects, regardless of the correct Oxford Dictionary meaning.

  2. The Guy who doesn't like it when people complain about trivial thingsAugust 24, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    just to add to the oxford definition. this has been adapted from the original, more literal meaning of prefect, which is "a high ranking military official in Rome". The head of police in Paris is also known as a prefect. The word is very blatantly not what our school prefects are supposed to be. That's why I feel that this name change is necessary, why complain, what difference does it make anyway, other than the fact that our student leaders are being more accurately described?

  3. just because the dictionary defines a word a certain way, does not mean that that is how people perceive the word. (how else would semantic shift occur?) Prefect, in modern society, means 'student leader at school'.

    anyway: "what's in a name?\ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"