Choosing a name for your youth group
What does your group's name say about who you are?
“What’s in a name?”, Shakespeare asked in Romeo & Juliet.
My answer is "heaps!", especially when it comes to youth groups.
At the beginning of this year I had to find names for three weekly youth gatherings and a camp. I’ve now been a part of six youth group name changes, and with one exception the process has been excruciating.
In part, this is because of the processes adopted to decide the name, but the main reason the choice has been so difficult is that names matter! And when we set out to choose a name we want it to be the right one.
So before I tackle the question of 'how do I choose a name?', I’d like to take a look at the 'why' of group names - why it matters and why it doesn’t (and why have I put myself through this agony so many times?).
Names mean something
Names can tell you something about the person or group they apply to. I serve at Northmead Anglican Church in Sydney. This tells you it’s an Anglican church in Northmead. Obvious, right? Similarly, when Moses asks in Exodus 3:13, “What is his name?”, he’s not merely enquiring into the name of God, but his character.
And sometimes names can convey meaning beyond describing the person or thing itself bearing the name. Take Hosea’s children for example (Hosea 1:4;6;8) - God uses their names as a message to Israel concerning their faithlessness! The Bible does this a lot, as people and places are named as memorials or testimonies to what God has done in the world.
My wife and I planned to have a go at this ourselves with our last two children. We had a beautiful (we think) girl’s name lined up - Zoe Anastasia - because we wanted a daughter to know that although her name means 'life' and 'resurrection', Jesus IS the resurrection and the life. Unfortunately (for the sake of this experiment in memorial naming), we had two wonderful sons!
Names can take on new meanings
On the other hand, in time names are further invested in meaning, as they are synonymous with the characteristics and history of the person or place. So to those who know, 'Sydney' means a vibrant city with an awesome harbour, a colourful history, and mediocre train and road networks. And 'forgiven' (which is the name of our youth group at Northmead) means… well, we’re only a few weeks old, so we’re still working that out!
In the end, our name just comes to be shorthand for who we are. The group name stands for 'us'- everything we have been, everything we are, and everything we will be.
Choosing a name for your youth group
You want people to know who you are and what you’re on about, and a name can quickly and easily convey some of that. Whether it’s on a banner out the front of your church hall or on your church’s website, people can see your name and know something about you. You might even be able to convey something practical, like where or when you meet - this can all be communicated in a name.
On the other hand, you don’t have to be too obvious. The human brain is remarkably good at joining the dots and finding meaning in things. Just look at our road signs! We see the single three letter word 'Dip' and our brain instantly interprets this to mean, 'There is a subsidence in the road ahead, and you need to drive carefully or you will crash your car'.
In fact, designers and marketers will tell you that feeding this attribute of the brain, allowing people to work out the meaning, gives a product more 'stickiness' or 'buy in', and you want that when it comes to attracting people to your youth group. So whether you go for a really obvious and descriptive name like 'Friday Night Youth', or something obscure and open to interpretation such as 'Frenoir', the youth will in time fill the name with meaning - and hopefully that meaning will be 'we are teens who love Jesus'!
About the author: Mark Baines is Youth Minister at Northmead Anglican Church.