What's In A Name Change?

May 11, 2011
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“Back & Forth” features running commentary on industry activities by Supply House Times staffers and contributors.

Dan Holohan

Dan: Jim, have you noticed how a lot of our industry's associations are changing their names? They say it's to better suit the times, and to help them move forward and whatnot, but my feeble mind is now challenged by the new acronyms. Is there an etiquette to pronouncing (or mispronouncing) these new names? And what's next?  

Jim: Actually, the acronyms often remain the same even though the names change. Recent cases include RPA (Radiant Professionals Alliance, from Radiant Panel Association) and PMI (old: Plumbing Manufacturers Institute; new: Plumbing Manufacturers International). Makes sense not to change the initials, which would compel costly reproduction of signage and letterheads.

A decade or so ago, the former National Association of Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors (NAPHCC) changed its designation to Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors -- National Association (PHCC-NA), due to some silly political squabble with its state affiliates. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

I caution you against trying to pronounce some of our industry acronyms. You might end up swallowing your tongue.

I wonder if there is any other industry with as many trade associations as ours, due mainly to so many state and local affiliates. As founding editor for the very first edition of Plumbing & Mechanical (best known as PM, by the way) in March 1984, I published a list of abbreviations for scores of industry trade groups. It remains one of my proudest professional achievements, although I was later to learn that I had merely scratched the surface.  

Dan: Hmm. NAOHSM, which is near and dear to me because, being a Long Islander, many of their currently dead members raised me, educationally speaking, just changed their name to National Association Of Oil And Energy Service Professionals, Inc. This from the National Association of Oil Heating Service Manager. So we go from NAOHSM (Bless you, too!) to NAOOAESP. My engineer buddy, Brad White, did some research and wrote, "According to Google Translate that is a Finnish insult, implying an unnaturally close relationship between a boiler and a Lapland Reindeer." But I digress. Alan Mercurio, who knows much about oil heat, let me know that the official acronym for the old/new NAOHSMHAOOAESP will be, simply, OESO, which stands for Oil & Energy Service Professionals. Not sure how to say that, though. Esso?  

Jim: Be careful. When slurred, Esso sounds like, well, let's move on.

At 8 letters, NAOOAESP ties what I believe to have been the previous record acronym in our industry, the group formerly known as the Women's Auxiliary of the National Association of Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors (WANAPHCC). Years ago I received a complaint from that organization chastising me for transposing a couple of those letters in an article that ran in PM. Sheesh.  

Dan: One can never be too careful. Speaking of which, should Plumbing & Mechanical ever go deeply into the sprinkler side of the biz, will we consider changing our acronym to PMS?  

Jim: There's a reason why I always spell out Supply House Times.  

Dan: Yes, I've noticed that over the years. Jim, do you think the changing of a name changes the essence of the organization? Is not a rose a rose? Do members see themselves renewed with a new name for their group? Is the name key to the vision? And what about the fogies (old and young) who hate change.  

Jim: Sometimes name changes may be necessary because the organization's mission changes or expands. I think that's the case with two examples cited earlier in this exchange - PMI and RPA. Radiant Professionals Alliance in particular sounds classier than the old Radiant Panel Association, in which case nobody knew what the heck a radiant panel was.

Some organizations make their names unnecessarily clunky. Besides making for a tongue-tying acronym, NAOHSM's successor, the National Association Of Oil And Energy Service Professionals, could just as easily be simplified to the National Association of Energy Service Professionals. I realize their roots are in oil heat, but they tacked on the generic "Energy" term presumably to accommodate members whose businesses encompass other fuel sources. Why not leave it at that?

I think a group can have great vision even with a clunky moniker, but if an organization is looking for respect from people outside of its little niche of an industry, it would be better to come up with a name that's snazzy and contemporary besides being descriptive.

You won't hear me say anything bad about old fogies. I've joined their ranks.

Dan: Hey, who doesn't love a good fogie? I watched the NAOHSM name change and I know there was a strong group involved with the discussions who felt that oil was what brought them to the dance and they didn't want to leave that out. While this was going on, we watched the latest version of the old Fuel Oil and Oil Heat magazine (I used to write for them) come to life. They are now calling themselves Indoor Comfort Marketing, which I think is healthy, especially considering the current price of fuel oil and the political climate (not quite oil-friendly).

People still say they're going to the big ASHRAE show, in spite of its AHR acronym. I think it's going to be a long time before NAOHSM loses that wacky name.


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