Veteran journalist Carl Hoffman believes he’s solved one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. In 1961 at the age of 23, Michael Rockefeller – son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and a member of one of the richest and most powerful families in America ¬– travelled to remote New Guinea in search of primitive art for his father’s new museum.
“Y” Are We Shortening?
Listen to the Story
The Young Men’s Christian Association, better known as the YMCA, is rebranding itself as merely “The Y.” Immediately, some worried that an underlying reason for the name shortening was to appear more secular. People argued that dropping the “MCA” from the organization’s title was really an attempt to distance the organization from its Christian roots. (use a change in inflection to not rebuttal) The Y claims it just wants to match the name that many have always used. For me, the new name demonstrates a different form of change. Not one of secularity, but one of velocity.
The Y is but one of a number of organizations and companies that have shorten their names. Some recent examples are Pizza Hut re-branding itself as “The Hut” and Radio Shack becoming just “The Shack.” National Public Radio now just uses ” NPR” A company may choose to re-brand itself to increase business or regain attention. But the shortening of company names has to do more with trying to keep up with our speedier, technology-fused society.
Much of our communication today comes in the forms of tweets, text messages, and emails sent from smart phones. And a reality of this new communication is the fact that typing has replaced verbal dialogues. And in our transformation from a verbal to a typing society, our speech has become shorter. Telling a story about last night’s dinner might take you 5 minutes over the phone, but typing the same story would take you ten minutes. An easy way to shorten the story is to substitute abbreviations for long phrases, replace long words with punctuations, and even trade verbal tones for emoticons. A face-to-face goodbye hug becomes: “CUL8R, smiley face”- spelled wIth the letters c, U, L, the numeral 8, the letter R a colon and right parentheses.
Organizations like The Y and companies like The Shack are trying to interject themselves into our culture of shortened speech. Even if typing The Hut versus Pizza Hut only removes two letters, saying “The Hut” itself continues our expectation that communication be short and concise. Saying “The Y” instead of YMCA is snappier. It’s more chic. And society loves things that are snappy and chic. Just look at all the products you can purchase at The Shack for use during fitness classes you take at The Y to work off the meal you ate at the Hut.
In addition, saying “The Y” or “The Shack” denotes a level of personal connection with the organization. People drop their kids off for child care at the Young Men’s Christian Association, but people belong to “The Y.” A person buys electronics at Radio Shack, but becomes tech savvy at “The Shack.” A person hastily picks up dinner from Pizza Hut, but enjoys trendy family meals at “The Hut.” Perhaps in addition to inserting their shorter names into society’s speedier vernacular, The Y and others are also simultaneously trying to maintain some sense of emotional connection. In a time when emoticons replace actual face-to-face smiles, saying “The Y” might keep us feeling warm and fuzzy.
So I say kudos to The Y for joining the ranks of others who have shortened their brands. Maybe they will spark other organizations and companies to follow suit. Just think of how faster texting about The Boys and Girls Club of America could be if it were just called “The Club?” But then again, perhaps our speedy vernacular will one day force out the “the’s” leaving us with shacks, huts, and a whole lot of y’s.