Naming In The News

What's in a name? For CCHT, it's Aeon

By Dan Emerson, Special to Finance and Commerce
September 26, 2007

Alan Arthur admits that he's never been crazy about the name of his nonprofit group — Central Community Housing Trust of Minneapolis.

"It's a mouthful," he said.

That will change next week when CCHT becomes Aeon.

After 21 years as one of the largest providers of affordable apartments in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-based CCHT will officially adopt its new name next Wednesday.

While some are scratching their heads over the choice, Arthur, who is president of the group, thinks it makes perfect sense.

"The main reason is we have moved out of the Central Community of Minneapolis [one of the city's 11 planning districts, covering the area in and near downtown]. So, the name had become less and less accurate from a geographical standpoint."

In addition, the new name reflects the nonprofit group's decision to expand its efforts into St. Paul and the suburbs, although its basic mission will remain unchanged, he said.

CCHT was founded in 1986 to help replace 350 units of affordable housing demolished to build the Minneapolis Convention Center. Since then, the organization has developed and continues to operate 1,484 units of affordable apartment housing.

Because affordable housing issues are no longer confined to inner-city areas, CCHT has expanded its service-area beyond Minneapolis to the entire Twin Cities in recent years. It finished its first project in St. Paul last year, a renovation of the landmark Crane Ordway warehouse in Lowertown. CCHT's first two suburban projects are under way in Chaska and Roseville.

The new name is the end product of an extensive, year-long process in which multiple task forces and focus groups brainstormed, reacted and considered "hundreds of really good names," Arthur explained.

"We worked with people who knew us well, people who barely knew us, and also experts in public relations and marketing who volunteered their expertise," he said. "We culled those names down to about a dozen that seemed to resonate best with people. Then we put a couple of other groups together to pare those down to three finalists, and then saw how people reacted to those. Then we started researching trademark options."

Aeon, the final choice, "won on all counts," Arthur said.

Aeon (pronounced A-yon) is the Greek word for "forever." "It's short and snappy, and we think it really resonates well," Arthur said, noting it expresses the idea that "we're responsible to the community for providing affordable, quality apartment homes forever. That's our goal."

"Some people have commented that Aeon sounds like the name of an insurance or a software company," Arthur said. "But we know that, ultimately, this name will mean something to the communities in which we provide high-quality housing."

By itself, the new name does not reveal anything about the nonprofit's mission. But it will be used in tandem with a new logo and tagline. The logo is a simple archetypal line drawing of a house and tree. The tagline is "Homes for Generations."

The new logo has two meanings, said Joanne Kosciolek, vice president of fund development and communications.

"Aeon doesn't say too much to anybody," she explained, "so we knew we wanted to come up with a logo that was more depictive."

The house obviously refers to CCHT/Aeon's core mission, while the tree "depicts our interest in sustainability and keeping our properties green."

CCHT officials considered about 30 logo candidates submitted by Rubin Cardaro Design, a Minneapolis-based graphic-design firm, before finally settling on the house-tree image.

Earlier this year, CCHT also finalized a new strategic plan, but its mission remains unchanged.

"The new plan says we will continue to provide quality, low-income housing," Arthur said.

William Lozito, president of Bloomington-based Strategic Name Development Inc. (a brand-naming consultancy), says CCHT's name-change reflects two recent naming trends.

"The change to a shorter name is fairly common these days among nonprofits," he said. "We're seeing it more and more, and this one is a dramatic example. The other common trend is going from very descriptive to a more suggestive name. It's also more prevalent than ever before."

Still, as a naming expert, Lozito said he's puzzled by the choice of Aeon, saying it might confuse CCHT's clientèle, which includes a relatively high percentage of immigrants with a median household income of $14,510.

"There's a high correlation between income and education," he said, implying that those with relatively less education might also find the name confusing.

In addition, a name with a "vowel cluster" might also confuse those for whom English is a second language. "In our culture, we tend to prefer names with vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant" spellings, he said.

The name was slightly confusing even for the staff at Strategic Name Development, Lozito said.

"We had a debate over how to pronounce it — 'e-yon' or 'a-yon' — and we're a naming company. I can't imagine it not being a problem for their client-base."

But Kosciolek said the organization's leaders are confident they made the right choice.

"For us, it's not so much trouble with the name Aeon," Kosciolek said. "The issue is the trouble we had with Central Community Housing Trust. Many times, people did not get it right."

"People have even been confused by the acronym CCHT," she added, saying they sometimes confused it with another, similar nonprofit agency in Duluth called CHCT.

"And Central Community Housing Trust just wasn't describing who we are, anymore. We've expanded.

"We wanted a new name that would be simple, easy to remember and unique — and that we could copyright. It might be a little difficult for some people to pronounce. Will we have to do some educating [about the new name]? Absolutely."