Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Cru: a name "without meaning" and why that's (potentially) a good thing

Hey, kids, it's time for a multiple choice quiz. Here's your question: What does "Qdoba" mean?

A) It's an Aztec word meaning "womanly."

B) It's a shortening of the Spanish phrase "Que Adoba?" which means "What is that marinated in?"

C) It's a word that sounds like Spanish but really isn't, just like the food appears to be Mexican, but really isn't.

D) It means fast, friendly, fresh.

The answer, dear readers, is at the end of this post.

One of the common questions people have asked about the Campus Crusade for Christ name change is "What does 'Cru' mean?"

Now, obviously, for those of us who have been around and know where the name comes from, it's an abbreviation of the word Crusade from our current name (more on that tomorrow, in the post "Terrible, Horrible Things About Our New Name and Why We Still Chose This One"). But a lot of people seem concerned that they will be having conversations like this:

Me: Hi. I work with a Christian non-profit organization called "Cru."
Other guy: Oh yeah? What does 'Cru' mean?
Me: I have no idea.
Other guy: Really?
Me: Well, um, it's a sort of shortened version of the word Crusade.
Other guy: Uhhhhhh....
Me: Because 'Cru' is a way for me to downplay that my group was originally called Campus Crusade for Christ.
Other guy: You're creepy.
Me: I know. But do you want to hear about Jesus? He can totally protect you from creepy people.

What does "3M" mean?
To which I can only say, I doubt it. You're not going to have this conversation, and neither am I. At least, not very often. Let's face it, we have a very high tolerance for ambiguity and lack of meaning in our language. If you disagree, I would merely point out how many times you've used Scotch Tape without considering what it means. Duct tape, electrical tape, masking tape... these all have relatively straightforward clues as to their intended use in their names. But what about SCOTCH tape? Is it for use on alcoholic beverages? For laying out hopscotch boards? Or could it be a racist crack against Scotsmen? (Now that you're wondering for the first time in your life, here's what Scotch Tape means.) We rarely ask what things mean, preferring to know what they do. This is a far more likely conversation:

Me: Hi. I work with a Christian non-profit organization called "Cru."
Other guy: Oh yeah? What do you do?
Our previous name was a highly descriptive and concrete name. The name (originally) represented who we were and what we did. Namely, Campus (we work with college students) Crusade (we don't just "work" on campus actually, we have a cause, a mission on the campus) for Christ (the person and reason we work with college students). Over the last 60 years two things changed: our organization expanded, so that many of our staff don't work on campus, and the semantic range of the word "crusade" narrowed (at least in common usage) so that our name no longer describes us accurately. To most people who hear our name now it says Campus (our organization is only relevant to college students) Crusade (we will kill you in a religious war) for Christ (for Jesus).

Now, we didn't enter into the name change process having decided to choose a more abstract name. In fact, in the over 1,600 names we considered, there were many, many names that were descriptive. There's nothing wrong with choosing descriptive over abstract.

Take, for instance, two Seattle brands: Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee. Remember the first time you went to Starbucks? There's no doubt what Seattle's Best Coffee serves. Starbucks, on the other hand... WHAT DOES IT MEAN? I would guess, for most of us, we've attached our own meaning to it. Very few of us walk into the store and think, Ah, their name is a reference to the first mate of the Pequod, although in the plural rather than possessive. Ahoy! A cup of coffee, matey! No, we have an emotional reaction to the name. Starbucks hopes it's one that has something to do with rest, relaxation, a nice place to hang out and enjoy a beverage or have a conversation.

Lots of organizations have these names that don't precisely explain who they are or what they do: Google, Starbucks, Apple, Chevron, Twitter. Part of the reason Campus Crusade for Christ chose to move away from a more descriptive/concrete name was to allow us to have a shot at influencing people's opinion of the organization by way of their experience rather than their opinion about what our name describes.

So, the hope is that having a more abstract name will allow us to infuse the name with meaning ourselves, much as Starbucks or Qdoba or Google has done with their names. The exciting thing about this is that it will force people to look at our organization rather than our history (good or bad). People will look at their own experience with us rather than their expectations of what we should be (or what we were in the 1970s). The potential drawback to this is that people will see us for what we are. So, if we're not living up to our mission, if we're not following through on our promises to our people, if we're not the cutting edge organization that's committed to the Great Commission, that will be obvious and leave us with a poor reputation. I, for one, am proud of Cru and the things we've done in the last ten years, so I'm confident that when people look at us they'll see something attractive, something they want to be a part of.

By the way, this is why we decided not to make "Cru" an acronym... adding an acronym moves us toward descriptive again, whether it's "Community, Real life change, Uncommon opportunities" or "Christians Really Understand" or (my personal favorite via Chris Zaugg) "Christ Reaching Uthers." We don't want to tell people who we are anymore, we want to show them with our actions.

I hope you like what you see!


Qdoba answer: No one knows what Qdoba means. It's not Spanish. I sent a note to Qdoba a few days ago and haven't heard back from them yet!


Previous posts on this topic: 


The criteria we used in the name change process and why they matter.
* Name change overview