On Thursday, April 12, I invited Georgia Health Sciences, Augusta State University, and the community at large to share suggestions for the name of our new university. Within the first 24 hours, more than 550 people had shared their thoughts – most submitting more than one name. According to the count we made right before posting this blog, nearly 950 individuals had submitted more than 1,100 ideas for our new university’s name – and the suggestions keep coming in. If you haven’t weighed in, please do so at asughsu.org/name
There are many approaches to naming universities. According to research conducted by communications expert D.F. Treadwell, categories of institutional names generally fall into four categories:
- Proper – based on the names of specific individuals
- Aspirational – suggesting a goal or a level of performance
- Geographic – reflecting a location or a geographic feature
- Governmental or public – suggesting a state, federal, or municipal institution
Treadwell’s research suggests that proper and aspirational names resonate the most with prospective students. We want a name that will resonate with prospective students and also with our faculty peers at other research universities across the state – a name that will capture the imagination and interest of our many stakeholders.
Naming the university after a philanthropist who recognizes the power and longevity of universities, and who chooses to invest in the future of the university may be the ideal manner in which a name should be chosen. It represents the ultimate win-win-win. A win for the philanthropist and his or her legacy, a win for the university… and most of all, a win for our students, past, present, and future.
In 1718, a wealthy merchant donated nine bales of goods, 417 books, and a portrait of King George I to a small school in New Haven, Connecticut. That merchant was Elihu Yale and the university that bears his name is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious colleges in the world. Similar stories are part of the histories of Duke University, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, and so many other great institutions of higher learning.
And nearly 275 years after Elihu Yale’s gift, industrialist Henry Rowan and his wife donated $100 million to Glassboro State College in 1992, then the largest gift ever given to a public college or university in the history of higher education. Today the school is known as Rowan University in recognition of its benefactors’ generosity.
For the philanthropic community, the naming of our university represents a unique –once in a century – opportunity. For our new university, when consolidation is completed, will not be a smallish nascent entity with much work ahead required to show impact and sustainability.
Our new university will, overnight, be a more than one billion dollar enterprise, with state-wide and national reach, among only five percent of Carnegie Foundation institutions classified as doctoral-granting with high or very high activity research, with well defined and recognized professional schools and research activities, including eight colleges, nearly 10,000 students, more than 650 acres of campus and nearly 150 buildings that would cost more than $5 billion to recreate elsewhere, more than 1,000 full-time faculty, with an aligned, integrated and well managed health system, and a growing athletics program that includes back-to-back NCAA Division I national championships.
And even rarer is the opportunity for a university of the size, breadth and relevance that we will be, to readily accept and be able to fully leverage a new name. In contrast to most other ‘naming’ opportunities, which primarily were ‘renamings’, we genuinely will be a new university, with little baggage from previous branding efforts. A truly rare and unique opportunity! Imagine trying to rename, no matter the amount of the gift, UNC, UGA, or OHSU!
University names that tend to resonate with stakeholders can also reflect an institution’s or a community’s aspirations. In 2001, Beaver College in Pennsylvania changed its name to Arcadia University, after a region in ancient Greece, a country associated with the birthplace of modern thought and learning where philosophers pursued independent thought and inquiry. Arcadia selected its name as a signal of their intention to instill these principles in the lives of their students. A year after the institution changed its name, enrollment and applications were both up as was awareness among perspective students. Prior to the change, applicants hailed from 35 states. Just one year after the change, Arcadia was receiving applications from 48 states, nearly every state in the union.
I have said publicly that our new name would include the word “university” and would not include the words “health” or “medicine” in light of the fact that we will be a comprehensive research university when consolidation is complete. And I have also articulated my hope that the new name of our new university would be relatively concise, including three words or fewer.
This is not simply my personal desire. We recently studied the top 100 universities in the United States to find out what kind of name patterns we could elucidate. Our research on university naming conventions revealed that of the nation’s top 100 institutions of higher education (by the USNWR rankings), 90% use the term ‘university’ in their name and more than 60% have names that use three words or less (see Table). Interestingly, only 38% public institutions had names with 3 or less words, compared to 80% of private institutions. See Box for other interesting factoids regarding the names of the nation’s 100 top universities.
If we aspire to be one of the nation’s great universities, we have to look like one, act like one, and sound like one. Calling ourselves something along the lines of the Central Savannah River Area Consolidated Institute of Arts and Medicine won’t get us there.
And we also know the name of our new university will not be Augusta State University or Georgia Health Sciences University. We are undergoing a consolidation. We are unifying two different institutions to create a completely new university – a consolidation… not a merger.
Other than these basic parameters, all options are on the table. Well, nearly all. The “Azziz School for Smarties” will not be a contender, but I certainly appreciate the good humor and playfulness many of you are demonstrating with your suggestions.
That said, naming is a serious matter. The name of our institution should be focused on the future – our future students, the future of our graduates and faculty, and the faculty we will recruit in the future to be a part of this new university.
Our name will be our public face. It is our handshake. It is our ‘first impression’. It is a central part of our identity and will influence the opinions of all who come in contact with us. Writing about corporate rebranding, Laurent Muzellec, a branding consultant and lecturer at Dublin City University, a relatively young university in Ireland, observes that:
“… a new corporate name must bundle together a collective sense of purpose, while encompassing the unique combination of history, leadership, strategies, and values, and being accepted by the varied stakeholders.”
Will we identify a name that pleases every one? I can assure you we will not. But we will identify a name that reflects what our new university will be, a name that will positively position us in the national and global marketplace. And, we will invest in a branding strategy that gives that new name every chance of success.
As I indicated in my invitation to share your naming ideas, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents has asked us to provide a list of three possible names no later than July 1. They will make a decision based on those recommendations with a goal of having our new name announced this fall.
Please know this … whether our new university carries a name that is aspirational, geographic, or bestowed in honor of an important benefactor, we will continue our efforts to build the next great American university. And even more than our name, the tangible results of those efforts will speak volumes about our good work to the citizens of Georgia, our alumni, the nation, and the world.
What’s In a University Name? Summary of Analysis
Prepared by the Office of Institutional Research, February 15, 2012