Acronyms have probably been with us for as long as we’ve had written language. The Romans certainly used abbreviations or ‘Sigla’; the most famous being SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus) and this can still be found chiselled and stamped on the ruins and ancient coins of Rome. Fast forward 2,000 years and acronyms are alive and kicking. From the darkly humorous found in doctor’s notes (e.g. GPO – good for parts only or UBI – unexplained beer injury) to more everyday examples like CCTV, or the welcoming WC.


There are many things that unite our sector and help to make it a unique community of professions and trades. But for me there’s one thing that feels a little like a touchstone. And that’s the all-pervading, inescapable use of acronyms. They are everywhere. Even the most cursory review of professional body names will unveil a myriad of initialized names.


It is of course simply shorthand for often lengthy and complex organisational titles. Being able to revert to RPS or ACCA can be enormously helpful. But not so helpful to those on the outside, scratching their heads and thinking WTF!


Recently, PARN have been lucky enough to be working with one or two brand new professional bodies. One stumped us with a simple question, ‘What do you think we should be called?’.


It’s not every day that we get asked that question. And the answer to that deceptively simple question, may set a course for that professional body for many years to come. It got me thinking about the conventions we have in the sector around the names of professional bodies. But also about the ways in which these abbreviations are perceived by the general public and new entrants to the profession.


Naturally, many simply reflect a level of attained status such as Chartership and Royal College. But what of the more mundane elements of the naming within our sector?


We see a great many institutes. The term certainly conveys a centre of learning and excellence, a designation shared with universities and colleges around the world. We might deduce origins stemming back to a learned institute or centre of study.


There are also many societies suggesting a banding together of like-minded practitioners, coming together perhaps to protect and promote their interests and those of their service users. The word society tends also to suggest something that is formed naturally, and is perhaps not always tangible.


The apparently very similar but more commonly used (Google 2020) nomenclature association tends perhaps to reflect a more concrete coming together; something that has been created through endeavour. I think perhaps most of us would argue that association and society, when applied to organisations in our sector, are largely interchangeable.


It’s fair to say that professional bodies are really quite conservative in their approach to names. As a sector we have resisted the temptation to borrow from the world of advertising and marketing and dream up ever more fantastical names with entirely opaque origins and abstract references to the host body. Acronyms have served us well for a very long time and have no doubt proofed many organisations from the subterfuge of contemporary name trends – thank goodness!


But we can’t also help but wonder if this simple device will continue to come good for us - especially when it comes to the importance of attracting the new wave of millennial practitioners. Will they know their AGCAS from their ACEVO?