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Friday, July 16, 2010

Say goodbye to the Y-M-C-A: it's now just the Y

To the chagrin of Village People fans around the world, the YMCA is kissing its name goodbye. Most of it, that is.

The venerable service organization for youth and adults announced today that henceforth, you can just call it "The Y" as you've probably been doing anyway.

The Y's new name is about as far away as it can get from its origins while still honoring them in some way. Founded in London in 1844 as the Young Men's Christian Association, the organization's first US branch opened in Boston in 1851. The organization has been known by just its initials for the last 43 years -- a span of time in which those initials became a pop culture talisman thanks to the Village People's disco hit, which extolled the YMCA as a place where a young man could be who he wanted to be. (Big-city YMCAs, which often had rooms men could rent by the day, had acquired a reputation as gay cruising spots, a reputation that meshed with the Village People's own mainstreaming of gay cultural cliches.)

The Y's explanation for the brand surgery makes some sense: it's been quite a while since it just provided a gym, a pool and a place for a young man to sleep. The agency said that its own surveys, conducted over a two-year period, showed that most Americans don't know what the YMCA does

(For the record, the Y still has as its mission "[putting] Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all." It carries out that mission in three main areas -- youth development, healthy living and social responsibility -- and runs programs aimed at all ages and both sexes.)

As could be expected, the Village People themselves were upset by the announcement, issuing the following statement:

"We are deeply dismayed by today's announcement from the Y.M.C.A. that they feel a name change and a rebranding are in order after 166 years. Some things remain iconic and while we admire the organization for the work they do, we still can't help but wonder Y."

(Not to worry, dance lovers: You will still be able to semaphore all four letters at Village People performances, where it will always be "fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.")


And to put one final perplexing period on this story: The name change only applies to the national organization, whose legal name will remain the YMCA of the USA. Your local community branch should still be referred to formally as the YMCA of [your local community].

Even if you've gotten used to just calling it "The Y."

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