A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, as a Shakespeare character once asserted, but the five colleges in the Maryland state college system disagree. The heads of the five schools, including Bowie State in Prince George's County, think their images and reputations would be improved if their names were changed.

The common thread is to remove the word "state" from their titles. The college officials contend that word is a sore-thumb reminder of their earlier years as state teachers colleges.

Meeting in Annapolis, the Board of Trustees of the State Universities and Colleges (which excludes the University of Maryland) voted to ask the General Assembly to change the name of five schools under its jurisdiction.

Bowie State would become Bowie College of Maryland; Coppin State in Baltimore would become Coppin College of Maryland; Frost- burg State in far Western Maryland would become Frostburg College of Maryland; Salisbury State on the Eastern Shore would become Salisbury College of Maryland, and Towson State University in suburban Baltimore would become Towson University of Maryland.

"Admittedly, the name change is cosmetic," said Nelson P. Guild of Frostburg State. "But sometimes even cosmetic changes can have positive results . . . .

"Also, it sounds as though it could be a private institution," better for attracting students and donations, Guild said, adding: "Take a look at William and Mary in Virginia . . . . It's a state college, but you'd never know to look at it."

Whether the name change would make anything different is questionable, at best. The writer of this column once attended a college called San Francisco State. Officialdom, in its questionable wisdom, changed its name a generation ago to California State University -- San Francisco. One guess as to what it's still called.