What’s in a Name Change?

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance involved its members in discussions about a potential name change, which NAAFA leadership believes is a must in order to advance the organization’s mission.

In a connected society, branding is everything, and it starts with something simple: a name.

For an association, its name reflects what the organization stands for. If it causes confusion or controversy—as in the case of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance—it might mean a change is in order.

That’s the message NAAFA sent to its members in a recent newsletter: “Life comes with very few guarantees, but one of those is that things are going to change. … Whether as an individual or as an organization, we must continue to evolve if we are to survive and thrive.”

Jason Docherty, NAAFA’s board chair, said the inclusion of the word ‘fat’ in the organization’s name has had a negative impact in various aspects of the group’s work—everything from building strategic partnerships to recruiting members to encouraging serious conversations about fat acceptance. The group is now considering its second name change in the organization’s 40-year history. Originally known as the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, NAAFA has not disclosed the options under consideration for the new name.

Every serious debate, we’re going in with one hand tied behind our back because people don’t want to listen when they hear what NAAFA stands for.

“Every serious debate, we’re going in with one hand tied behind our back because people don’t want to listen when they hear what NAAFA stands for,” Docherty said. “When they get past the name, the conversations we have are great, but the initial shock is causing problems we don’t really need.”

The newsletter article, part of NAAFA’s effort to include members in the ongoing discussions about the name, has garnered plenty of feedback from the fat-acceptance community. According to Docherty, a large majority of it has been positive.

“Of our direct responses, 70 percent of them have been dramatically in favor of the name change,” Docherty said. “The 30 percent, their response had more to do with nostalgia or an attempt to not lose the history of the organization.”

Still others have responded, saying that by removing the word “fat” the organization would be abandoning its mission. Docherty disagreed.

“The reason the word ‘fat’ was kept in the structure of our communications was it was an attempt to reclaim the word so it wasn’t seen as a bad word,” he said. “Unfortunately, that part of the media war has been lost. No matter how we internalize our language—and we will continue to use positively the word ‘fat’—it’s not resonating with an audience out there.”

NAAFA has studied the experience of other organizations like AARP and the NAACP, which have gone through similar processes.

“Any time you’re dealing with a name change you really ignite a lot of emotion,” said Brandon Macsata, a consultant working with NAAFA during the rebranding and managing partner of the Macsata-Kornegay Group, Inc. “It’s giving folks an opportunity to provide feedback wherever possible and being very strategic in how you go about making the change. If you try to steamroll through it, you better be ready for plenty of problems and fire coming from members.”

While it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy on such a major decision, in the end, Docherty said, it has to be driven by what’s best for the organization.

“The name and brand of an organization is more important now than it has been ever,” he said. “The wrong wording—such as what we’ve got in ours—can combine with other things to make your mission that much more difficult. We need to be flexible enough to recognize nostalgia is great, but achieving our mission and our goal is really what people expect from us, and when they see the change working for them they’ll understand that what was required was worthwhile.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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