Initial It!

Recently, America OnLine Inc. officially changed its corporate name to AOL. The change, according to the company chairman, "better reflects our extended mission." Although General Electric has not made such a change, it, too, regularly uses the initials GE for the same reason.

Corporate initalization is not a new public relations phenomenon. As early as the 1930s, radio broadcasting companies identified themselves as CBS and NBC. In the same era the Franklin Roosevelt Administration created its "alphabet agencies," like NRA, WPA and PWA. Moreover, the United States was then widely known as USA and Great Britain simply became UK (for United Kingdom).

Like the signet ring, an old jewelry affectation, the identifying initials of a corporation or even a state (need I add the ill-fated USSR?) became a distinguishing mark, a form of almost mystical identification. The letters FDR form the halo of initials shimmering over the head of one of our most influential presidents, as in a lesser way do the letters JFK. (W will have no lasting presidential significance and, after the Bush Administration slips into history, the letter will revert to its more common placement on a door: W.C.)

Not incidentally, initialization has also become a subdivision of the acronym, as words like NATO and FEMA have entered our vocabulary.

We all talk more and say less, and less well, the contemporary state of speech. Whether the rage of initialization is a reflection of our noisy, but sound bite times is a matter of conjecture. Whatever, it is an interesting development, and one that has bounded forward over the Internet.

Ray Betts