A Strategic Approach to Renaming

I don’t know about you, but when someone has a baby, one of the first things I ask is the name. Parents typically take great care in choosing the name, and there’s something beautiful, powerful, and telling in what they’ve selected. Did they choose a family name? A name that reflects their cultural heritage? A name with a particular meaning? Over time, the child herself will give meaning to the name for the people who know her.

But what if you’re naming (or renaming) an organization, not a baby?

Last month we addressed deciding whether to change your organization’s name. Today we’ll explore different approaches to choosing a name.

First, it’s important to recognize that choosing an organization’s name isn’t just about what you, your board, or your grandma likes. Your organization’s name is for your audience and needs to align with the personality or tone you want for your brand.

As you consider a switch, ask questions about your name and your organization’s personality in surveys, interviews and focus group sessions. You might even discover that your current name isn’t quite the problem that you thought it was!

When we take our clients through our AMIE brand focus process, one question we’ve found incredibly useful is this: If you were to describe this organization with an adjective, what would it be?

Naming Possibilities

Knowing your audience and your brand personality is key for narrowing down your (many, many) possible naming pathways. Here are a few of the routes you might consider, depending on your particular organization’s circumstances.

Literal – Sometimes direct is best. Many names describe a service or a location. Examples include the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, the Nature Conservancy and the American Cancer Society.

Personal – Using your own name if you’re the founder or the name of someone associated with the organization’s mission offers a viable possibility. This path can be a strong contender if your audience’s connection to the organization—at least initially—is through the person whose name you’re incorporating, their story or their reputation. The Betty Ford Center, The Pew Charitable Trusts and Alex’s Lemonade Stand are all great examples of this approach.

However, you may be renaming because the name selected has become problematic like Lance Armstrong’s troubles reflecting on the Livestrong organization. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation reap benefits from name association. This is powerful as long as the meanings behind those names remain aligned with your values.

Inspirational – Using words that evoke strong emotions and inspire action often align with a nonprofit’s personality and the values of its audience. Examples of inspirational names include Higher Ground International, United Way, and Teach for America.

Foreign Language – Using a foreign word or phrase can be a powerful approach for organizations serving specific ethnic groups. For example, Esperanza (which means hope in Spanish) serves Hispanic communities in Philadelphia. This strategy can also work for organizations simply looking to say something meaningful with their name in a novel way. One example of this is the water utility service Aqua (which is Latin for water).

Blended Word – This approach involves combining two words to create a new one that’s uniquely you while borrowing from the meaning of the originals. Examples of this approach include Accenture (accent on the future) and Verizon (vertical horizon).

Acronym – Acronyms used as names need to be clever, memorable and easy to say, especially because you will rarely use the acronym’s original words. But if you land on the right one, it can be a homerun. A great example is CARE USA, which was named the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe precisely to spell C-A-R-E. The organization began by sending food rations—the first CARE Packages®—to Europe at the end of World War II.

Other Considerations

While your audience and your brand personality should stand front and center, there are still practical things you’ll need to consider, like whether you’re able to get a url that you like with the appropriate extension for your organization, such as .org for a nonprofit or .edu for an educational institution. You’ll also want to have your lawyer do a trademark search on your top contender to make sure it’s available.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Just like a parent, you’re helping to create something new!

Looking for a new name as part of your brand focus? We’d love to talk! Give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at info@iriscreative.com.