Tell us Y, please

What we have here is another one of those branding stories, kind of like the old trend story about Southern Baptist churches taking "Baptist" off their church signs or a certain purple campus in Fort Worth that is trying to focus on a TCU image, as opposed to the old Texas You Know What University thing. This time around, a major name change is going even further. However, it's hard to find out why by reading the following story in The New York Times. Here's the top of the report:

Note to the Village People: The lyrics in your biggest hit need an update. The organization previously known as the Y.M.C.A. is henceforth to be called "the Y."

One of the nation's most iconic nonprofit organizations, founded 166 years ago in England as the Young Men's Christian Association, is undergoing a major rebranding, adopting as its name the nickname everyone has used for generations.

"It's a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you," said Kate Coleman, the organization's senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

OK, is this simply a matter of wanting a better logo or something that will fit better as the button for an iPhone app? You know, like National Public Radio stressing that it is now semi-officially just NPR? Is it better for Twitter?

What we really need to know is whether the name change represents any kind of content change in the organization's core identity. Or did that already happened when the emphasis was placed on the bare letters YMCA in the first place?

There is this major chunk of content later in the story:

The Y's new name coincides with its efforts to emphasize the impact its programs have on youth, healthy living and communities. ... In low-income housing complexes in Houston, landlords have given the affiliate apartments for an after-school program to reduce vandalism by teenagers.

"We're trying to simplify how we tell the story of what we do, and the name represents that," said Neil Nicoll, president and chief executive of the organization, whose membership peaked in 2007 and has remained flat.

The challenge, Mr. Disend said, is to continue to make consumers and donors aware of the history, tradition and meaning behind the letters. "It's particularly a danger in the nonprofit space, where the story and awareness of the history and mission is critical when trying to raise money," he said.

I have no doubt that, in the end, membership and fund-raising issues are behind the change -- somehow. However, it's hard to know why "The Y" offers more mission-statement content than the "YMCA" of old, let alone the even older name from the past -- the Young Men's Christian Association.

It is interesting to click on an old link that once explained the mission's organization -- -- a link that no longer works. However, if one heads over to the basic site, the religious content of the organization's history is still there, if you are willing to click through several layers of content to find it.

But the faith-based question the Times does not ask or answer is rather basic: Is The Y having trouble with the secular or the religious side of its identity? Is the "Christian" label a problem when working with, oh, local governments, yet still crucial when raising money with traditional donors? Is the organization struggling with new diversity laws, such as the the ones here in the District of Columbia that are causing so much trouble with Catholic social ministries?

In other words, WHY is the YMCA now The Y? More information, please. The answer given doesn't make much sense.

ILLUSTRATION: A very old symbol for the Young Men's Christian Association. And what about John 17:21?

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