What’s in a Name?

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Peg Smith knows what you think when you hear “camping”: RVs. Tents. Outdoor latrines. When you’re the CEO of the American Camping Association (ACA), that’s a problem.

“We are not about RVs and tents,” Smith says. ACA’s 2,600 member agencies run camps for kids and adults, such as summer sports, arts and computer camps.

So after 96 years of existence, the ACA in August took one of the biggest steps an agency can take: It changed its name. The association cut just three letters from its old name, but expects to spend $150,000 over the next six months to roll out the new one – the American Camp Association – along with a new slogan and logo.

Changing an organization’s name can be expensive and risky. When should it be done? At the National Assembly of Health and Human Services Organizations, CEO Irv Katz was long bothered by one problem: “No one could remember our name.” The final straw came when he was about to give a speech: “A good friend was introducing me, and when he fumbled our name, I knew it was time to do something about it.”

Last month, the organization became the National Human Services Assembly.

These are the latest among the countless organizations in the youth field that have changed their names over the years, usually because their work has evolved beyond what’s reflected in their names, because some words in the their names have taken on different societal meanings, or because the names were so long or vague that they confused people.

“If you tell people what you are doing, and you think you’re doing good work, that might not be enough,” says Kevin Kirkpatrick, vice president of communications and advancement for Prevent Child Abuse America, formerly the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.


Name changes are often part of the larger process of branding, in which organizations assess what’s referred to as their “positioning in the marketplace.” Sometimes spending tens of thousand dollars on “strategic brand consultants,” a few groups have searched their souls for their “brand DNA,” marketing-speak for the essence of their being.

Although the lingo of branding may be modern, the process is not new.

Just follow this: In 1906, an organization called the Federated Boys Clubs was founded. In 1929 it changed its name to Boys’ Club Federation of America. In 1931, it became Boys’ Clubs of America. In 1980, it dropped the apostrophe after “Boys” with the creation of a new logo.

Then in 1990, with the idea of segregating boys from girls rather passé, it became Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA).

That did not make the Girls Clubs of America happy. It seemed clear that the public would confuse the two groups. They organizations negotiated over the change, and “it wasn’t a friendly discussion,” says Evan McElroy, BGCA vice president for marketing and communication.

The BGCA paid an undisclosed amount to the Girls Clubs, which changed its name to Girls Inc. Such changes require a large investment in everything from redoing the company stationery to launching a campaign to get the public to recognize the new name. “There was a financial settlement to offset the cost of re-branding,” says Alexander Kopelman, director of communications of Girls Inc., “although I don’t believe it was called ‘branding’ at the time.”

While those two groups appear to have done well with their new names, others have to keep trying new ones. For several decades, the name wasn’t a problem for Camp Fire Girls, founded in 1910. But the same gender inclusiveness that prompted the Boy Clubs to insert “Girls” prompted Camp Fire to change to Camp Fire Boys and Girls in the late 1980s.

It didn’t work. The group found that people kept saying “Camp Fire Girls” without the “Boys.” So in the 1990s it switched to Camp Fire, Inc.

It didn’t help much. The organization commissioned a Gallup poll, which showed that public awareness of the group was dropping.

After wrestling with the problem for two years and hiring Landor Associates, a well-known image consulting firm, the organization rolled out a new name in 2001: Camp Fire USA. Vanessa Adams, the group’s communications manager, estimates that the process of revising the group’s brand identity cost “about $1 million.”

Did it work? “We thought it would increase our participation numbers, and they’ve gone up a little bit,” Adams says. “And we still get called Camp Fire Girls now and then.”

Nevertheless, she adds, the new name “ feels more modern.”


Going more modern is a common reason for agency name changes. Some youth-serving organizations that began in the 1960s and 1970s adopted names that fit the era, but that years later seemed out of place. Thus the Cry of Love Free Clinic in Salem, Ore., named after an album of Jimi Hendrix tunes released soon after his death, is now the West Salem Clinic.

And while Huckleberry House was a fine name for a runaway shelter started in San Francisco in 1967 – named after Huckleberry Finn, “sort of the primal runaway child,” says development director Vicki Schwartz – it no longer seemed to fit in the 1970s, when the organization was expanding to include other programs for at-risk adolescents.

So the agency, originally known as Huckleberry’s for Runaways, became Youth Advocates Inc. But the new name had its drawbacks. “Some folks thought we were legal advocates for young people, or anti-parents,” Schwartz says. A pro bono branding adviser noted that “Huckleberry” was easier to remember. In 1997, the entire agency’s name was changed to Huckleberry Youth Programs.

It was hardly the first name change that an agency later regretted, or the last. Consider the evolution of what began in 1884 as the Orphanage and Home for the Friendless, now Florida’s oldest child-serving agency. Clearly, a name with the words “orphanage” and “friendless” had to go in the 20th century, especially as its work evolved. In 1893 it became Daniel Memorial Home, named after James Jaquelin Daniel, who led the local battle against a yellow fever epidemic in 1888 and died of the disease.

Then as part of a branding effort in 1999, the agency shortened its name to “daniel” with a small “d,” to go with a new logo and slogan. Insisting on the lower case “d” in every public mention of the agency for the purposes of branding has proved to be a pain, says Madison Shelley, vice president for development. Even if people try to go along, their word processors often automatically capitalize the “d.”

“I think we made a mistake with that spelling,” Shelley says. “Having a corporate logo, it’s pretty fashionable these days. But in my view, we’ve taken it one step too far.”

Word Associations

Associations of youth-serving agencies seem particularly vulnerable to name changes, due to the changing roles of their member agencies. Consider the newly renamed National Human Services Assembly, headed by Katz. The group was founded in 1923 as the National Social Work Council, then became the National Social Welfare Assembly, then the National Assembly of Voluntary Health and Welfare Agencies, and then the National Assembly of Health and Human Services Organizations – the last of which proved just too unwieldy.

For the National Association of State-Based Child Advocates, formed in 1984, the problem was accuracy: Some of its member agencies were not statewide organizations. So in 1994 it became the National Association of Child Advocates (NACA).

Not good enough. The phrase “child advocates” didn’t always ring the right bells for groups that speak out on children’s issues, says NACA President Tamara Copeland. And some people confused NACA with groups that use the acronym CASA – the Court Appointed Special Advocates, who work with abused or neglected children in family courts.

In 2002, Copeland suggested to her board of directors that the group change its name to Voices for America’s Children. “I assumed they’d say, ‘Let’s do some research on it,’ ” she says. Instead, they adopted the plan on the spot.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation provided $30,000 to implement the change last year. Nine of the national organization’s 58 members also changed to include “Voices” in their names. (Four already used the word.) Many of the rest, such as Kansas Action for Children, have strong name recognition back home and prefer to stand pat.

Would that things went so smoothly for Prevent Child Abuse America. It used to be known as the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, but “ ‘national committee’ sounded too bureaucratic,” says Kirkpatrick, the vice president for communications. “Or it sounded like an agency of the federal government, or just another do-nothing committee.”

The name Prevent Child Abuse America was rolled out in March 1999 and was picked up by many of the group’s 38 affiliates, spawning names such as Prevent Child Abuse Nebraska and Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.

A lot of people, however, don’t seem to notice “prevent” in the name. “It may be that the term ‘child abuse’ is so toxic that it precludes the possibility of the word ‘prevent’ being heard or understood,” Kirkpatrick says. “If we’re trying to reach parents, but they’re turned off by our brand name, it’s a problem that needs to be resolved.”

The group is about to launch research on its brand identity, Kirkpatrick says. A new name is possible.

So don’t put away the Rolodex. In fact, you might want to note that this month, the I Am Your Child Foundation, founded in 1997 by actor-director Rob Reiner to focus on early childhood development, plans to announce that it will now focus on organizing parents as advocates for children’s issues.

That requires a new name: Parents’ Action for Children.