One of the things that provides continuity to a community is the names of its institutions. Every time a part of the old nominal order changeth, it giveth way to the loss of things that have meaning for many of us.

We've lost, through renamings, such mileposts of our rich local history as Central and Western High schools, the Army's Washington Barracks, Conduit Road, Gallinger Hospital, Capital Transit, the Wardman Park Hotel and Miner and Wilson Teachers colleges. There are many more.

Now we're about to lose the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. Dear old C&P, one of the first--perhaps even the first--of the Bell System companies in the conglomerate founded by Washingtonian Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

For those of you who might have missed the brief piece on the financial page the other day, C&P is scheduled Jan. 1 to be folded into a new regional company to be called Bell Atlantic. Many of us will miss the old name.

In the turmoil surrounding the court-ordered breakup and reorganization of the Bell System, we almost missed the fact that this month represented the centennial of C&P. On July 1, 1883, it took over the former National Capital Telephone Co.

In that same month, this region had its first long-distance telephone service. On July 25, 1883--a century ago last Monday--the initial call between Baltimore and Washington was a news dispatch telephoned from The Baltimore American to The Washington Post reporting a Chesapeake Bay excursion steamer accident in which 67 passengers were drowned. That day, 34 calls were placed between two cities.