Is Your Name Good Enough?

A number of my clients are pondering name changes for their organizations. The dread is palpable. Their concerns run the gamut:

Goodenough College

  • It will cause confusion.
  • We might lose critical stakeholders: customers, members, sponsors, donors, legislative support, community leaders, popular support, …
  • We have to uphold tradition.
  • People won’t be able to find us.
  • It will be expensive.
  • We’ll need a costly market research study.

The fear paralyzes and change comes slowly, if ever.

Insert clarity here.

1. Separate the end result issues from the transition issues.

Of course the change will cost something. Those costs will likely include money, confusion, and a few upset people. Don’t ignore those, but don’t let them prevent you from considering whether there is important value in changing your name. If a name change is important, you can deal with the transition issues – acquire the funds, prevent confusion, manage existing customer expectations, and minimize other negatives forces.

2. Keep in mind the purpose of a name.

Your name serves only two purposes:

  • It attracts stakeholders (customers, employees, members, donors, etc.)
  • It provides “a handle.

And since “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” the attraction side of this equation is the main issue.

No name is perfect, so don’t waste your time debating the quality of yours unless it is holding you back.

Take The Governor’s Academy just north of Boston. Founded in 1763 and named for a prominent colonial, the school spent about 250 years as the Dummer Academy (or a slight variation on that theme). When the memory of William Dummer was still alive, the students were all local, and there was no competition, that worked just fine thank you. But those conditions ended long ago. In 2005, the Board of Trustees finally removed Dummer from the name. Now The Governor’s Academy can celebrate their proud history without the accompanying obstacles for prospective students. Are you paddling upstream by holding onto tradition?

When I was in high school, my brother, a friend, and I drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to ski. I remember coming to a screeching halt on the side of the freeway in the middle of the night so we could get a picture of a billboard for the Balling Motel. Think that’s a good name for a motel? It might be. Especially if you want to attract the attention of teenage boys. Not so much if your target market is families. Is your name conjuring images at odds with what you want to be as an organization?

In what way is your name holding you back relative to your goals, your target market, and the competition? Paint a picture inspired by your current name and another inspired by your desired future. How do they compare? Is your current name going to help you live up to your brand or not?

If not, remember the following:

  • Don’t worry about creating confusion; if you are due for a name change, people are probably already confused or will be soon.
  • History and tradition should enrich your organization, not handcuff it. Keep the stories, not a difficult name.
  • Ruffled feathers are inevitable and temporary. Don’t let transition concerns prevent you from making smart changes that will help you become the organization you want to be.
  • Last, but not least, avoid another should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-name-change-debate. Step the conversation up a level and agree first on that picture of your desired future.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “absolutely,” 0 being “absolutely not,” and 5 being “neither a plus nor a minus,” is your current name a great fit for the organization you are or want to become? A score of 4 or below means the name is hurting you and should be changed. A score of 8 – 10 is certainly good enough for now. If you fall in between with a 5 – 7, a name change could be a great branding opportunity, especially if combined with a new product line launch, the achievement of a great milestone, or an anniversary celebration.

OK, now to the photo above! I took this in London a few weeks ago. Is a name change in order?

At first blush, yes. Goodenough seems ridiculous. Worse than a Dummer prep school.

Truth be told, it’s probably fine. Goodenough is also a person’s name and probably sounds quite elegant if spoken with a proper British accent. OK, I know what you are thinking, for many of us, it is still Good Enough! So here is the next thing you need to know. Goodenough College isn’t a college! It is a residence hall for post-grad international students. Being international, many of those students may see only medieval English name and not the separate English words. Being post-grad, the students probably find it more amusing than an affront to their personal identities. Being a residence hall, the students may even find themselves there by assignment, not selection. So who cares what the name is? The funders. History and tradition may be the top priority.