YMCA drops last three letters. But Y?

At the National Press Club on July 12, the YMCA announced its new official name: “The Y.”

Of course, corporate name changes are common enough. CEOs and boards may want to seek the forgetting of the past (ValueJet is now Airtran and Blackwater is now Xe Services), the correction of an original thoughtlessness (Google was once BackRub), or the setting-aside of certain unpleasant product-based realities (witness KGC slowly emerging out of KFC). But what happens when an institution with “Christian” in its name drops that adjective?

Let’s get the obvious first question out of the way: yes, The Village People are incensed, noting that they “will continue to perform all four letters in their concerts around the world.” And, no, we really can’t imagine wedding reception dances without all four letters.

As to the rest of it,

“We are changing how we talk about ourselves so that people better understand the benefits of engaging with the Y,” said Kate Coleman, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of YMCA of the USA. “We are simplifying how we describe the programs we offer so that it is immediately apparent that everything we do is designed to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve health and well-being and support our neighbors and the larger community.”

So the YMCA – beg pardon, the Y – is launching a strategic rebranding of itself. And it may be that in the age of Twitterization, a 75% reduction in one’s name plus a three-point simplification in mission does speak a little more plainly than the Y’s old mission, which was

… to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

With a sigh we admit that it could be that in the public imagination, “Christian principles” is even too obscure a category. But to what extent is this “forward-looking strategic shift” a walking-away from the “C” part? Or is it merely a move to make this organization as accessible and newly relevant as possible?

Some conservative groups will no doubt point their pistols lightly towards this change. After all, notes Bryan Fischer of the far-right American Family Association,

The YMCA was founded because the founder, George Williams, realized boys need Christ to become grown men. By removing Christ or Christianity from their title, they’re just taking another step away from their original mission.

Yet as it went through its litany of undeniably good deeds at the Press Club, it became clear that the Y is acting in a Christ-like manner even if it doesn’t bear the label anymore.

What do you think? Don’t orgs like the Y deserve to dust off their corporate images, names, and logos? And what’s the greater risk – holding on to a title, or going quietly into that good night?

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