Monday, May 14, 2007

Confusing Acronyms

Organizations with long names love acronyms because acronyms considerably reduce the need to type out those long names when creating various documents. Such acronyms also make it easier to create visually appealing logos.

Sometimes, it's clear what an acronyms mean. For example, just about everyone knows that the NAACP is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Likewise, even the most conservative person knows that the NOW is the National Organization of Women. It's kind of presumptuous of them to claim to speak for all women, since many pro-life women are completely opposed to the organization's agenda, but I will have to give them credit for coming up with an acronym which actually spelled a word which seemed to relate in some vague way to the image the organization wanted to project.

Pronunciation is sometimes an issue, which is why organizations seem to like acronyms with repetitive letters. Even though "n, double a, c, p" actually has one more syllable than "n, a, a, c, p", the former pronunciation seems to be preferred, perhaps because it flows more smoothly when verbalized.

Theoretically, one could refer to "the NOW", but very few people do. They say "the n, o, w" instead, because it's less ambiguous.

Some acronyms have multiple possible meanings because multiple companies or organizations use those acronyms. Potentially, things can be a bit confusing, making one wonder whether or not it would be easier to just spell out the entire names of the organizations.

For several years, when I was in high school, I attended an Assemblies of God church, in Springfield, Missouri, known as Evangel Temple. We all called our church "ET". Then, of course, the movie "ET" came out, along with a little TV show known as "Entertainment Tonight", which was often described as "ET". So which "ET" was one talking about at any given moment? It was sometimes clear from the context of the sentence, but not always. "I love ET" could have referred to any one of the three possible meanings (and possibly others I haven't thought of).

Another popular acronym, especially in Christian circles, is CCC. My first encounter with that acronym was when I attended Cambridge Christian Center in New England, near Harvard University. But it's been used by numerous ministries, including Community Christian Church, Christ Community Church, Christian Catholic Church, Community Congregational Church, and more. And it isn't difficult to think of a lot of other possible meanings. (I don't know whether or not anyone owns a business named Crazy Charlie's Cafe, but it isn't inconceivable.)

Acronyms seem to come in sets of 3 letters more often than any other number, but there are shorter acronyms and longer ones as well.

The acronyms I've chosen for the Christian ministries I want to start would be as follows:

CARC (Christian Artists' Resource Center)
CAI (The Christian Arts Initiative)
NAAAC (North American Alliance of Artistic Christians)

Whenever one chooses an acronym or an organizational name, one problem is that one may inadvertently be using an acronym which is already taken. Why is that a problem? Because the other company may claim that it "owns" the acronym already.

Take WWF, for example. WWF was the acronym for the World Wildlife Fund. That same acronym was also being used by the World Wrestling Federation. The World Wildlife Fund sued the World Wrestling Federation, forcing the latter organization to stop using the WWF acronym.

The weird thing is that if you ever compared the logos for the two organizations, you'd see that they didn't really look alike at all. There was little or no danger of people confusing the rounded typography and cute cuddly panda bear on the logo for the World Wildlife Fund with the hard metallic logo of the World Wrestling Federation. But the mere fact that they both shared the same 3 letters seems to have been enough. As it turned out, the dispute ended up costing the wrestling organization a lot of money, because all of the merchandise which had been branded with the old logo had to be redone with the new logo when they changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Now, in terms of the specific situation, Wikipedia states, "In 2000, the World Wildlife Fund (also WWF), an environmental organization now called the World Wide Fund for Nature, sued the World Wrestling Federation. A British court agreed that Titan Sports had violated a 1994 agreement which had limited the permissible use of the WWF initials overseas, particularly in merchandising."

So it may be that the legal issue wasn't the fact that they shared the same initials, but rather, the fact that there was a prior 1994 agreement between the two organizations. If that's the case, it's harder to feel sorry for the wrestling organization (and I wouldn't normally be inclined to have a lot of sympathy for that organization anyway, since I regard most pro wrestling endeavors as inordinately sleazy).

But it is interesting to the extent that it suggests that may be possible to get into legal trouble merely by using an acronym which is already being used another company or organization. How one is supposed to know that one is doing so is anyone's guess. To my knowledge, there's no national or international registrar which keeps track of all acronyms currently in use. I'm not quite sure how an organization would go about protecting itself against frivolous lawsuits pertaining to the use of acronyms. It could be devestating for a small organization which was already operating on the financial margins to begin with to be forced to change its name (after investing a lot of money in the previous name) in order to comply with the law.

As far as I know, there are no current organizations using CARC, NAAAC or NAI. But I could be wrong. I guess I just have to create logos, register those logos as trademarks (after doing trademark searches), and hope for the best.

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