The social inclusion charity Toc H and the digital education charity JISC are among the charities with the worst-ever names, whereas WaterAid, Oxfam and Save the Children are among the best, according to a new report from the charity research consultancy nfpSynergy.
The paper, What’s in a Name?, says that the worst name of all was the National Canine Defence League, which was changed to the Dogs Trust in 2003.
The report says the words "national" and "league" have both become redundant as language and society have changed, the word "defence" has army connotations and "canine" is a poor choice of word compared with "dog".
The report praises WaterAid’s name for being short, memorable and internet-friendly, and it says Oxfam – an abbreviation of Oxford Committee for Famine Relief – is considered by most people to be a name in itself. "Being the charity with the highest level of spontaneous awareness is testament to how well this works," the report says.
Save the Children is a good name because it is inviting to those interested in children, includes a verb and "does what it says on the tin", the report says.
It also praises Macmillan Cancer Support’s name and says: "What is good about Macmillan’s name is not so much the full version, but the shortening to Macmillan. Say to anyone that you are supporting Macmillan and everybody knows who you mean."
But despite the success of Macmillan – which was named after the cancer charity’s founder, Douglas Macmillan – the report says that founders' names rarely make good charity names. "Not only do they usually have a first name and a surname, but they fade from public consciousness," it says.
The report says that having a name tied to the existence of the UK is a bad idea for charities given the uncertainty that the UK will still be in its current form in 10 or 20 years’ time.
It says that the problem with Breast Cancer Care, Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer is that their names are too easily confused. "The combination of Bs and Cs defeat distinction by most members of the public," it says. "This is compounded by the three’s love of pink." Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer officially merged on 1 April, but they are yet to reveal the name of the merged entity.
The report says that a problem with some charity names is that they are too generic, which it says typically comes about because of an attempt to escape the wrong name. An example of this is Scope’s change of name from the Spastics Society in 1994.
Another problem is that some names become redundant by lending themselves to instant abbreviation. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, for example, is now officially known as the PDSA, which the report suggests is hard for people to remember.
"A name change is a huge decision for a charity," said Joe Saxton, co-founder of nfpSynergy.
"Getting it right can secure the long-term future of a charity and generate a boost in awareness, reputation and, ultimately, in income. Getting it wrong can be an expensive disaster and too often the decision is made without the proper care or research.
"It is not a decision to be taken lightly, but as attitudes in society change and competition in the sector grows, it’s one that will face a range of charities and they must be ready to deal with it effectively."