Monday, June 21, 2010

What’s In a Name?

These are all names of museums in the Association of Children’s Museum (ACM) membership. I have been in many discussions about naming with clients.  Since most of our clients are involved in a change process - expansion, start up or refocusing their identity and services - the brand and more specifically the name is often on the table.  When talking with clients about their name someone (ok, usually its me) points out that the word “museum” doesn’t resonate for all communities, and that our target audience is actually families.  If you take those 2 issues to heart, that usually leaves us moving in a different direction with the name. 

I have also noticed anecdotally that there is a surge of creative name-calling in the children's museum community.  But I couldn't tell if my observations pointed to a general trend and if so, whether there was a new "type" of name that these museums were moving toward.  

Review of ACM Member Names

To get to the bottom of this question I looked at the names of ACM member organizations.  I decided to compare 2 membership directors a decade apart. So I choose 1997 and 2007.  I spent some time sorting the names into categories that I could use to then organize the data and create a framework for analyzing it.  

I came up with the following five characteristics of names:
    1. Audience. Names that refer to the target audience, such as “children” or “youth”.
    2. Location. Names that refer to the city or region the organization serves.
    3. Sponsorship Recognition. Recognizing a major donor in the name.
    4. Destination.  Reference to the visitor center: “center,” “station,” “museum”.
    5. Visitor Experience. Verbs, or made up words based on adjectives and nouns, to indicate type of activity.
I charted out all the names, counting a name each time it fell into one of my categories – so many museums were counted more than once.  I was hoping one outcome would be that the really fanciful, whimsical names would pop out and that I could compare how prevalent that type of name is to a more literal, descriptive name.

This is too long for one blog post so I am going to split it up into a series.  The next post will look at the most popular type of name for a children's museum. Then I will talk about the truly made-up names I found, and then alternative strategies that organizations have turned to when nothing else seems sufficient.

I don't want to give away my conclusions but let me just say that I was really surprised by what I found and didn't anticipate the results of all that number crunching.  I'm left with more questions.  But that's the way inquiry is supposed to happen, right?


Emily said...

I suppose you came across the name of our emerging children's museum for the Baton Rouge area, Knock Knock. The museum was first conceived with the name Capital Area Kids' Museum. However, some LSU graphic design students (working on our logo as a class project) requested permission to generate an alternative name. They came up with "Knock Knock" and some really great graphics. We hope to open doors to children and families, knocking for experienced-based learning, as well as lots of fun with knock-knock jokes.

Justine Roberts said...

I think its great that the museum collaborated on the name and brand with your community. Since college students aren't really the audience for a children's museum I'm curious what their process was. The idea that the name threads throughout the experience is nice too. Another museum Gyroscope is working with is adopting a new name soon and they are tying their new name and brand to their mission and vision. So, like Knock Knock the name and the experience will be integrated and the organization has a single, coherent identity. I think that's a great way to think about the name also.