Mr. Levy’s existential question was recalled this month when Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts agreed to pay Avery Fisher’s descendants $15 million for permission to expunge his name from Philharmonic Hall, in return for other inducements, in hopes of luring a much larger donor willing to subsidize a projected $500 million renovation.
In 1973, Mr. Fisher, the music philanthropist, gave $10.5 million to repair the building with the stipulation that his name appear in perpetuity.
“Perpetuity is usually a matter of negotiation now,” said William D. Zabel, a lawyer representing the Fisher family, who had threatened to sue on their behalf 12 years ago when Lincoln Center considered changing the name at that time without its permission.
“It’s like in ‘Alice in Wonderland’: ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less,’ ” he said.
This time, both sides came to a mutually satisfactory agreement for the right price.