The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY recently announced it will now be known as “The Strong.” This name change comes after a number of high-profile museums made similar moves. For example, The Henry Ford Museum is now simply known as “The Henry Ford.”
The Strong’s rebranding is designed to be an umbrella term for its five “play partners” – the National Museum of Play, International Center for the History of Electronic Games, National Toy Hall of Fame, Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, and the American Journal of Play.
However, this new name is actually more vague and less representative of the actual institution for the average museum visitor, particularly out-of-towners who may mistake “The Strong” for a hotel or conference center. The local hospital is colloquially known as “The Strong.” So this name change could definitely be confusing for the community.
Branding is a hot topic in many industries right now, including the museum field. The concept of distilling your entire mission into a single name or logo is daunting, particularly for museums that are many things to many people.
Your name should reflect who you are, to entice visitors to come see you. Without our visitors, we are not viable community organizations. All name changes should be taken seriously and carefully planned out over time.
Surely The Strong has thought long and hard about this name change. Some may be strongly in favor of it. Others, undoubtedly, are not.
Sometimes a name change brings a modern image to a museum, or perhaps better reflects its collections, exhibitions, or mission. For example, the Shipyard Museum in Clayton, NY changed its name several years ago to the Antique Boat Museum. Today it is one of the premiere antique boat museums in the country, and its name accurately reflects that position.
In the past 20 years or so, museums have begun dropping the archaic term “historical society” and all its boring connotations in favor of “museum” or “history center.”
The Senator John Heinz History Center began as the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania in the 19th century. In conjunction with a capital campaign and major renovation project, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center opened in 1996. Today the museum is known more simply as the Senator John Heinz History Center. The latest name change is less of a mouthful, but in the land of ketchup, it may not convey everything the museum has to offer.
A museum’s name is its best marketing tool. As you build recognition in your community and beyond, you also build a following. A name change may muddy the waters among your loyal supporters, so be sure your new branding accurately reflects who you are.