JanFeb2016 Cover
Volume 84 | Issue 1
January/February 2016

From the Chief Executive Officer: Does Our Name Matter?

John Taylor, Ed.D.

ACUI CEO John TayorA name, whether for an individual or an organization, communicates a great deal about the entity. I’ve come to the conclusion that my name, John Taylor, is fairly common in the United States. Maybe not as common as John Smith, but during my life I’ve come across a few doppelgangers, if in name only. As an undergraduate, I was called down to the academic dean because another John Taylor was doing poorly in biology. Fortunately, I didn’t have biology that semester, but the dean used the opportunity to dive into my less than stellar performance in calculus. Another time, a different John Taylor’s financial aid check was sent to my campus mailbox. Don’t worry, I returned it to the university. Unfortunately, I’ve never received any mistaken checks from more famous John Taylors, like the bass guitarist from Duran Duran or the football star who played with the San Francisco 49ers.

My full name is actually rather unique, John deCani Taylor. Usually my middle name is misspelled, or a capital D is used. Often, I have to clarify when telling someone how to spell it, “that’s small d-e, capital C, a–n-i.” When I have to submit a middle initial on an electronic form it usually defaults to a capital letter. It would certainly be a lot easier to not use my middle name or to simply use a capital D when indicating the abbreviation. Easier is not usually the path I follow when something is important to me, and in this case deCani is my mother’s family name, and it goes back many generations. We don’t know what it means, and while it sounds Italian, my mother and all of her family are from England. Regardless of the origin, I like the name, especially as it contributes to the distinctive person that I am.

Fifteen years ago, I added an honorific to my name when it is used in formal settings, Dr. John Taylor. Some might say such titles are gratuitous except for medical doctors, but I disagree. I am proud of the accomplishment and worked too hard on completing my doctorate to lessen the recognition. I have observed that more of our members are completing their doctorates, and considering that we work in higher education, it is helpful and important to denote such credentials within academia. It conveys a serious commitment to education and our profession, on par with our faculty colleagues.

Our professional association has a distinctive name, which has changed over the years. At its first meeting in 1914, the National Association of Student Unions was established. The name was changed to the Association of College and University Unions in 1920, which was shortened to the Association of College Unions in 1931. It was expanded to the Association of College Unions – International in 1968, and then in 1996 the hyphen was removed to create our current name of the Association of College Unions International. Whether these changes are considered slight variations or not, the name of our association is important to how we communicate our identity.

As we look toward the future, it is appropriate to examine our association’s name and whether it best conveys the organization we have become in 2016, more than 100 years after our founding. The Board of Trustees established the Future of the Brand Task Force, charged with determining if ACUI’s brand still aligns with the needs of the population to be served. 

Examining our brand encompasses more than simply determining the name, logo, and colors that should be used as identifiers. As Simon Sinek suggests, we need to clarify the “why” of ACUI, followed by the “how,” and then the “what.” We need to be cognizant of our association’s roots and the organization needed for the future. The task force has already begun to engage ACUI members and will continue to seek feedback through qualitative and quantitative means. In addition to the task force, an external agency will be contracted to provide insight and objectivity in analyzing the ACUI brand, as well as best practices for successful implementation of a new brand if one is established. After a thorough review process, the task force will make recommendations to the Board of Trustees, and by this time next year we will know if any changes are necessary. While Shakespeare may be correct that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” I still think it is important to examine what name best fits our association at this time in our history.