A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Shakespeare had a few interesting things to say about names. I recalled something from Romeo and Juliet, so I looked it up on Google. It is worth remembering that before Google became a verb, the company was known as BackRub. They are not the only well-known brand with humble origins. When out jogging in your Nikes, would you have felt so bouncy in a pair of shoes from the Blue Ribbon Sports Company? And listening to Iggy Pop on your iPod, it could have been James Newell Ostenburg in your headphones. Would IBM have caught the public imagination being called the far too literal Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, or would have Malcolm X scared the life out of the American establishment as the slightly less punchy Malcolm Little?
The resonance invoked by a name cannot be underestimated. It conveys meaning, communicates a relationship and creates a connection between people, things and ideas. There has been a great deal written about the emotional connection we make with names. A recent study discovered a very high correlation between emotional responses and the names of common food products. Would you be quite so keen to take a slug of Pepsi in Ghana, where it is called Pee Cola?
There has been a recent trend for charities and other non-profit organisations to change names and re-brand. Motivations vary. A desire to stand out in a busy marketplace, secure a new foothold or refresh the image and brand.
It is a difficult choice. The costs can be high, as can be the fall out in terms of reputation, identification and customer loyalty. A range of considerations and consequences need to be factored into the decision.
The reason that names are on my mind recently is that our organisation has just become Youth Focus: North East. For the previous 12 years we had been the Regional Youth Work Unit -North East. A bit formal you may think. Maybe not when you consider our original name, and one we wore for 13 years, was the Northern Regional Youth and Community Development Unit. Not quite so easy on the ear.
The decision to change our name was not taken lightly or swiftly. For well over two years, we debated, discussed and consulted about making the change. It was not easy. We had a lot vested in our name – our reputation, our relationship with others and how we thought about ourselves. We risked losing some stuff. But we realised that, far more importantly, we had a great deal more to gain.
After many years of being the Chief Executive of the Regional Youth Work Unit, it feels a little strange. I am very proud to work for the Unit, as we have become known. I am proud of our staff and the tremendous work they do to improve the lives of young people; I am very proud of how smart, innovative and reflective we have become in recent years, and the tremendous progress we have made as an organisation. But were all these positive changes adequately reflected in our somewhat stuffy and formal name? Young people didn’t think so; staff and Board members didn’t think so; neither did our partners and stakeholders.
So we are now Youth Focus: North East – a name that better reflects our ambition to centre our work around its ultimate beneficiaries, to concentrate our resources in the areas where they are most needed and, ultimately, to move closer to our ambition of improving the lives of young people. So what’s in a name? Quite a lot, really.
Leon Mexter – Chief Executive, Youth Focus: North East