Thursday, July 1, 2010

Making It Up

This is the third entry in a series on Children's Museum's names.

As far as the truly invented names that caught my attention initially, it turns out that 19% of the ACM membership – 49 organizations - have decided that there are no existing words that adequately express the idea of a joyful, learning environment for children and families, and have made up their own words that sound a bit like a place, a bit like an activity, and in some cases also try to signal who they are for.  

This is not to say that those organizations have completely abandoned the three most common components of a name: children, museums, and location. The Explorium of Lexington is a perfect example of this blending of fantasy with familiarity.

So traditional words that indicate audience, place and location are being used as a way to anchor a name, and make it clear what type of organization it is, and reinforce its local roots, while at the same time allowing for some wordplay.  The standard naming components appear to be useful, but not always sufficient, to communicate the spirit of an organization in the ACM family.


Remember about a decade ago when businesses started using single words, and turning nouns into verbs and adverbs, to create new kinds of names?  Friendster, Performancing, Farecast, Meetro . . . In that context, Imaginarium - well, it has a context.    

There is also something to be said for using a name that expresses the personality of the organization.  Perhaps telling kids that this is a museum for them, the way "children's museum" does, can't capture fun and engagement the way whimsy can.  Audiences are changing so it would not surprise me to think that names are responding to this with more subtle and invitational language.

We also know from our own survey of Children's Museums that the practice of these organizations has been changing. Not all museums focus on exhibits, or even offer them. And as museums test new strategies for diversifying their audiences they are looking at all aspects of their brand.  So perhaps the word "museum" is not always a comfortable fit.

All of this suggests that the search for an alternative name is real.  And yet there is ambivelance.  What I see in the combination names is a concern that audiences won't know what an "imaginarium" is. 

This is a key issue and an Aha moment for me. There are more than one audience for a museum name, and how an organization describes those audiences significantly informs their choices.  For example: Is the name for funders? for the audience? for the professional community? for the staff?  

If your museum has had a name change, or been through a branding process and had this conversation, we would love to hear from you.

Next up: What's the Alternative?

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