Y _ _ _

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

In a move described as a new “branding strategy,” the YMCA recently decided to change its name to simply the “Y,” which prompted Conan O’Brien to comment that “You know times are tough when even letters are getting laid off.”

When YMCA CEO Neil Nicholl rolled out the new name this past summer, he noted that the organization’s goal, “changing lives for the better” . . . “will only come about if we work together to improve our health, stress, then our families and support our neighbors. Our hope is that more people will choose to engage in the Y.”

Was this decision simply a marketing ploy for the non-profit to increase funding? Does it track with the gradual shift to acronyms by United Parcel Service to UPS, National Public Radio to NPR, and Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC? While some think the abbreviation is long overdue since everyone calls it the “Y” anyway, others believe there’s more to it.

While the Y’s current goals do not conflict with those originally set when it launched in 1844, i.e. “youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” the update eliminates the need to mention that “C” in YMCA stands for “Christian” – a fact that was not lost on John A. Murray, headmaster of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Potomac, Maryland.

The YMCA’s overriding goal, “changing lives for the better,” relied strongly on a religious component as the inspiration to achieve that goal, said Murray in the Wall Street Journal. As Billy Graham said 30 years ago, the only way to change society was to “change men’s hearts first.” Today, the Christian aspect is overlooked.

During the past several years, the political correctness virus has targeted traditional organizations, especially those that focus on girls and young women. While the Boy Scouts are currently standing firm, the Girl Scouts have been forced to include some feminist doctrine into their mission statement and activities.

And last year the YWCA had its own shot of political correctness when the organization’s mission was revised to read as follows: “The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

Meanwhile, according to Kate Coleman, the Y’s chief marketing officer, the YMCA’s official name change to the “Y” was designed to create an image that was “warmer, more genuine, and more welcoming,”

During the YMCA’s heyday in the early 1920s, the group boasted over 700 chapters at nearly 1,000 college campuses.

From 1900 – 1915, more than 3,000 missionaries who traveled abroad “were products of the YMCAs and YWCAs.” Today it retains its strong focus on character building community activities, a commendable virtue in this challenging environment.

And yet, there will always be detractors. One group that’s already announced it will ignore the Y’s recent decision is the Village People, who vowed they’ll keep singing all four letters of the song “YMCA” despite the name change.

Deborah Lambert writes the Squeaky Chalk column for Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.