Since Saturday, one of the world’s oldest digital rights organizations is operating under a new name. FoeBuD e.V. is now Digitalcourage.

The need for a new name was obvious. The organisation was tired of being referred to as ‘data protection activists from Bielefeld’, of having to clarify spelling or pronunciation at every occasion, and generally of the dreaded question: “What does the name stand for?”

The correct answer had been a joke already 25 years ago: Verein zur Förderung des öffentlichen bewegten und unbewegten Datenverkehrs, a riff on the absurd neologisms of the Deutsche Post at the time. As the internet grew in importance (and Deutsche Post lost its grip on it), this joke grew old.

How do you rename an organisation?

FoeBuD’s founders approached me with this question in May 2011. One of the main challenges: FoeBuD’s strength lies in its independent-minded volunteer network, some of whom actually quite liked the quirkiness of the old name. Any process would thus be doomed if it tried to impose a new name from above – and equally doomed if it tried to please everybody. Instead, we built on the creativity and enthusiasm of FoeBuD’s activists – while providing a clear decision-making process: After having considered hundreds of proposals, FoeBuD’s board put one name forward to the General Assembly. Without any counter-proposals, the name Digitalcourage was adopted unanimously on 27 October 2012.

Some of the highlights on the way:

  • In November 2011, FoeBuD’s quarterly meeting of activists comes up with more than 200 suggestions for a new name.
  • In February 2012, an extraordinary General Assembly approves the process for the name change and calls for a wider search.
  • In April 2012, FoeBuD invites the public to contribute to the name search. 55 people write in with their ideas.
  • After a series of meetings between May and August 2012, FoeBuD shares a short list with all members and asks for feedback. Based on the results, the board (and the informal meeting of activists) decides on the name to propose to the General Assembly.

Don’t try this at home.

A name change, more than any other rebranding, is not for the faint-hearted. A name reflects your identity. Any attempt to change it will surface your organization’s unspoken assumptions, hidden conflicts and unclear agreements. Some old members have left FoeBuD in the process, and I expect that there will be more taking a similar decision after the announcement.

A name change is far more than the creative name of brainstorming new options and selecting the best among them. We’ve done intensive work on everything from FoeBuD’s character, its target audiences, its vision, objectives and challenges. These parts of FoeBuD’s identity will not change, even as the name does. After 25 years of FoeBuD, the world still needs activists and artists with courage and passion for a digital world worth living in. The world needs Digitalcourage.

For me as a facilitator accompanying this process, I felt inspired seeing the ownership and excitement for the name change process grow over time. When L. took time to interview FoeBuD members about the how and why of the name change and to produce a video about it. When F. stood up to make a passionate case for one of the names and encouraged others to follow suit. When D. took stragglers and doubters to the side and persistently moved the process along. This was an exciting process, and it took a village.

To the next 25 years: Digitalcourage.

What’s in a name?
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