Most campus buildings, along with some schools, units, and physical spaces, have a namesake. While the mechanism for selecting people to honor in this way has changed over time, the reasons for doing so remain much the same. In general, the university has honored donors, past presidents and chancellors, deans, faculty members, and other employees who are considered important to the life of the institution. In another category are buildings named for governors and illustrious alumni.
Naming buildings for donors was an early practice. The first was the second building to be constructed in the 1790s, Person Hall, named to recognize Thomas Person's financial gift that enabled the first trustees to finish construction of Old East and Person. The only other antebellum building to be named for a donor was Smith Hall, now historic Playmakers Theatre. Benjamin Smith, who like Person was a trustee, donated 20,000 acres of land in Tennessee that he received for service in the Revolutionary War.
Examples of buildings named for governors, trustees, and other notable alumni are the first set of classroom buildings completed in 1922, Manning, Murphey, and Saunders (now Carolina Hall), and the 1924-era upper quad of dormitories, Mangum, Manly, Grimes and Ruffin. In this case, a committee of the trustees selected the namesakes. In 1928 the trustees adopted a policy to name academic buildings for influential professors and dormitories for important figures in the state.
Today's campus reflects this mix of donor appreciation and historical commemoration. Approximately 38 percent of campus names reflect a donation, while 62 percent derive from some mix of faculty and trustee designation for remembrance. Of note are more recent namings that reflect the community's desire to recognize those left out of such commemorations. In 1967 trustees chose to name a new residence hall for Hinton James, the university's first student. In 1998 UNC—Chapel Hill recognized campus employees by renaming the University Laundry for Kennon Cheek and Rebecca Clark, both of whom worked for better conditions for staff. In 2007 another residence hall was named for George Moses Horton, an enslaved poet who worked on campus and sold his poetry to students.