It is an extremely technical sounding set of words. But simply put, Orphan Initialism is when a company takes an acronym by which they are known that USED to stand for something and drops the actual meaning of the words so that their brand BECOMES the acronym.
Below is a list of some of the most well know of the Orphan Initialized:1
- AAA: Formerly the American Automobile Association.
- AARP: Formerly the American Association of Retired Persons.
- ACT Assessment: Formerly the American College Test.
- AT&T: Formerly American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
- FFA: Formerly Future Farmers of America.
- KFC: Formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- SAT: Formerly Scholastic Assessment Test, and before that, Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Initialism can be done for a variety of reasons and in most cases these Initialisms are long overdue and have been the company’s de facto brand for long before the company officially adopts it. In the case of AT&T, the name no longer fit the company’s core competencies. KFC wanted to disassociate themselves with the idea of “unhealthy fried food”. The AARP expanded their lobbying efforts to include more than just the retired people. All of the reasons above are more or less good, if not a bit self serving, reasons to rebrand with Initialism. But all were behind the curve.
The companies should have made the leap long before they did, but fear and inertia often hold a company and a brand back from making a move that they should. Brands often become slow and stuck in the image in which they were created. Companies outgrow their initial purpose, they change course, find new missions, and often times large or old companies are afraid to allow their brands to evolve along with their company.
Orphan Initialism is one way that today’s companies can evolve, move quickly, and adapt in a world that moves at every quickening speeds.