Don’t “Waste” Naming Opportunities

Changing the name of your business unit? Make sure it conveys your role or mission.When Clackamas County’s Solid Waste and Recycling department changed its name to the Office of Sustainability, Sustainability Analyst Susan Terry added a cheerful, unofficial tagline: “We’re not just garbage anymore!”

It gets the point across. There’s more here than regulating trash collection.

Naming or renaming a government or business unit is a great way to educate the public about an organization’s mission. But be careful, there are right and wrong ways to go about the job. Asking for suggestions from the community can be effective public engagement if the ground rules are clear.

Limits in the City of Austin

The City of Austin, Texas found it self in a well publicized if not embarrassing situation a few weeks ago. NPR had fun with a story headlined: “These are crappy names for a waste department.”

“Austin's Solid Waste Services Department decided it needed a new name. Something with a bit more panache. So it put it to the people of Austin in an online vote. So far, their overwhelming choice seems to be "The Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts."

“Fred Durst is the frontman for the hard-rock band Limp Bizkit,” NPR noted. And while folks in Austin might think the band's music shares much in common with solid waste, the city may have trouble following the will of the people on this one.”

Other suggested names included: Department of Neat and Clean, Ministry of Filth, Longhorn Alumni Society, Austin Recycling and Waste Reduction Department (RWRD = "Reward) and the Colbert Solid Waste Department.

The city’s public information officer described the vote, as advisory and a final name, to be announced in April, most likely would have nothing to do with Mr. Durst.

The right words for wastewater

A few years ago CFM had fun working with Clackamas County as it created a communications program to described the wastewater capacity management plan. We jokingly suggested the term “crapacity” to put a name on the problem of too little capacity at one of the county-operated sewage plants.

Having a brief yuk, the communications team went on to create a highly effective branding effort for the sewage district which featured a website called The words help tell the public what the district's goals were. The communications effort behind RiverHealth has earned national recognition.

Have fun in your renaming process. But make deliberate decisions and don’t treat the effort as if it were just a role of the dice, a crap game.