Orphan initialism

Orphan initialism is the changing of the official name of a corporation, advocacy group or any organization to an acronym or initialism. [1] Formed like any other acronym, the initial letters of the previous name are used. Such name changes are often connected to the continuous process of brand invigoration within government agencies and the corporate community. This is often done to expand the public's perception of the company's focus beyond what the original name indicates; for instance, BP (formerly British Petroleum) has been using the phrase "Beyond Petroleum" in its marketing. It may not be clear to those unaware of the previous name where the new name came from, if it is a person's proper name or relates to place or culture.


  • AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons) changed its name in 1998 to reflect the inclusion of older workers.[2]
  • AOL (formerly America Online)[3]
  • AT&T (formerly American Telephone and Telegraph)[1]
  • BP (formerly British Petroleum) changed its name in 1999 following the merger with Amoco (itself formerly American Oil Company) to reflect a broader focus in the energy field.[4]
  • ECHL (formerly East Coast Hockey League) changed its name in 2003 following the absorption of several West Coast Hockey League teams, reflecting the fact that the league was no longer confined to the East Coast.[5]
  • ESPN (formerly Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) changed its name in 1985 to reflect its focus just on sports.[6]
  • KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) changed its name in 1991. It is widely believed that they did so to dissociate themselves from unhealthy fried foods and focus on their other products.[7]
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws)[8]
  • NCR (formerly the National Cash Register Company) changed its name in 1974.[9]
  • PFR, the Christian rock band, was originally called Pray for Rain, but was renamed when they found out there was already a band by that name.[10]
  • PNC Financial Services was formed in 1982 with the merger of Pittsburgh National Corporation and Provident National Corporation. The new bank took as its name the common initials of the two originating banks.[11]
  • SAS originally stood for statistical analysis system, but has dropped the meaning.[12]
  • The SAT reasoning test was the Scholastic Aptitude Test until 1993, when the name was changed from "Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)" to "SAT I: Reasoning Tests".[1]
  • Seattle's Best Coffee for a time became SBC when it began marketing throughout the United States, but then reverted back to the former name.[6]
  • SRI International originally stood for Stanford Research Institute, but dropped the meaning when it became independent of Stanford University.[13]
  • In Texas A&M University's name, the A&M originally stood for "Agricultural & Mechanical", but in 1963, the Texas Legislature approved a bill changing the name of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas to "Texas A&M University", making the "A&M" symbolic but not standing for 'agricultural and mechanical'.[14]
  • WWE (formerly World Wrestling Entertainment, and World Wrestling Federation before that) in 2011 steered its primary focus from its core business model of professional wrestling to other forms of entertainment. To enforce its new focus as a media organization, the name was simplified so that "Wrestling" wouldn't be the main reflection of the company.[15][16]
  • UBS was formed through a merger of the Union Bank of Switzerland and the Swiss Bank Corporation in June 1998. Although the merged company's new name was originally supposed to be the "United Bank of Switzerland", officials opted to call it simply "UBS" because of a name clash with United Bank Switzerland—a part of the United Bank Limited's Swiss subsidiary.[17]

A variation on this process officially changes the meaning of an acronym or initialism. In these cases the name of the organization does not become an acronym or initialism, but instead is changed in a way that keeps the original acronym.


  • GAO, the investigative arm of the United States Congress, changed its name from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office in 2004.[18]
  • NCCJ originally stood for National Conference of Christians and Jews, but now stands for National Conference for Community and Justice.[19]
  • PHP originally stood for Personal Home Page. In version 3, it changed to PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor making it a recursive acronym.[20]
  • TCBY originally stood for This Can't Be Yogurt, but as a result of a lawsuit from rival I Can't Believe It's Yogurt changed its name to The Country's Best Yogurt.[21]
  • TNN originally stood for The Nashville Network until the television station was renamed The National Network.[22] (The channel was later renamed Spike.[23])
  • In 1973, Waterloo Lutheran University became Wilfrid Laurier University, retaining the initialism WLU.[24]
  • YM (magazine) originally stood for Young Miss, then Young & Modern and finally Your Magazine.[6]

See also

  • Backronym
  • The whole is more than the sum of its parts


  1. ^ a b c Language Log: Orphan initialisms
  2. ^ "AARP Contact Information". http://www.aarp.org/faq/Articles/a2003-01-22-contact-membershipanswers.html#mean. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  3. ^ "AOL announces name change". http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-6057235-7.html. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  4. ^ "BP plc History". http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=287. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  5. ^ "Annual ECHL Board Of Governors Meeting Concludes". ECHL.com. 2010-07-21. http://echl.com/annual-echl-board-of-governors-meeting-concludes-p166135. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  6. ^ a b c Steveson, Seth. "What does KFC stand for now?". Slate. http://www.slate.com/id/2099747/. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  7. ^ "KFC shuns 'fried' image with new name". BNET. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_n8_v25/ai_10403447/. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  8. ^ "NARAL name guidelines". http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/NARALGuidelines.html. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  9. ^ "NCR History Timeline". http://www.ncr.com/about_ncr/company_overview/history.jsp?lang=EN. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  10. ^ "PFR". http://www.answers.com/topic/pfr. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  11. ^ "PNC Corporate History". https://www.pnc.com/webapp/unsec/NCProductsAndService.do?siteArea=/PNC/Home/About+PNC/Our+Organization/Corporate+History. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  12. ^ "Company History". SAS. http://www.sas.com/presscenter/bgndr_history.html. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  13. ^ "Disabbreviation". http://tenser.typepad.com/tenser_said_the_tensor/2005/03/disabbreviation.html. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 
  14. ^ http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/TT/kct8.html
  15. ^ "The New WWE". World Wrestling Entertainment. 2011-04-07. http://corporate.wwe.com/news/2011/2011_04_07.html. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  16. ^ Associated Press. "World Wrestling Entertainment rebrands as WWE". Yahoo!. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/World-Wrestling-Entertainment-apf-1892382911.html?x=0&.v=1. Retrieved 2011-04-10. 
  17. ^ UBS means RIP for Warburg. The Daily Telegraph, Nov 13, 2002
  18. ^ "U.S. GAO: Our name". http://www.gao.gov/about/namechange.html. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  19. ^ "History - National Conference For Community & Justice". http://www.nccj.org/whoweare/history.html. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  20. ^ "PHP/FI Version 2.0". http://www.php.net/manual/phpfi2.php#history. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  21. ^ "TCBY Enterprises Inc.". Funding Universe. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/TCBY-Enterprises-Inc-Company-History.html. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  22. ^ "Good bye Nashville Network". http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/editorial.asp?xid=102. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  23. ^ Romano, Allison (2003-04-21). "TNN Hopes Mainly Men Will Watch "Spike TV"s". http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA293348.html. Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  24. ^ "Laurier History". http://info.wlu.ca/wlu-hp/about/history.shtml. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 

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