YMCA's makeover: Just call it 'The Y'

The YMCA is shortening its name to "The Y" in an effort to refresh its 150-year-old image. Savvy branding move or just self-indulgent wordplay?

As part of a $1.3 million rebranding effort, the YMCA has shortened its name to "The Y" and unveiled a new, single-letter logo. The organization says the "more forward-looking" branding better reflects its "vibrancy and diversity," but not everyone is thrilled. The Village People, the band behind the pop anthem "YMCA", quickly reacted with a statement saying they were "deeply dismayed" by the "unnecessary" name change: "Some things remain iconic and while we admire the organization for the work they do, we still can't help but wonder Y." They're not alone:

How did the rebranding come about?

Though the Young Men's Christian Association has been known as the YMCA since it was established in 1844, it's been casually called "the Y" for some time. In 2007, executives embarked on two years of brand analysis and research with the goal of boosting both recognition and now-static membership levels. It's hoped that the new, shorter name will help "The Y" seem more welcoming. "We’re trying to simplify how we tell the story of what we do, and the name represents that," says president and CEO Neil Nicoll.

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Just what does 'The Y' do these days?

It focuses on three areas: Youth development, social responsibility, and healthy living. Recent efforts have included a pool safety campaign, initiatives to combat childhood obesity, and testifying before Congress on the importance of funding for afterschool programs, which hundreds of "Y's" across the country offer.

Is this part of a larger movement in branding?

Yes, the rebranding reflects two trends: First, a move by many of the nation's largest and oldest nonprofits, including the United Way and the Girl Scouts of America, to refresh their graphic images; second, a tendency among both nonprofits and for-profit businesses to shorten their names, partly to make them more Twitter- and text-message-friendly. National Public Radio recently rechristened itself as NPR in the tradition of KFC, BP, AARP, and other entities that have adopted their acronyms as their formal names.

What will become of the Village People's "YMCA' song?

In a statement, the defiantly disapproving band said they will continue to perform the song — their best-selling single to date — with all four letters lyrically intact.

Sources: The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The NonProfit Times, YMCA.net

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