What’s in a name?

Here’s a curiosity: a British university has just changed its name, from (formerly) the University of Teesside to (now) Teesside University. Without any disrespect to the institution in question, which has a number of successes to celebrate, this isn’t much of a name change, and I’m not sure what it is supposed to suggest to its stakeholders. The press release merely tells us that the name change (with a new logo) has given the university the opportunity to remind the world about its recent successes.

If you accept that universities, like many other organisations, need to market themselves to the wider world, in order to recruit students, create business links, encourage research interests, and so forth, then the name can certainly play a role. Studies in the UK in the 1990s revealed, for example, that universities named after cities (like Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow, etc) tended to have a marketing advantage over those named after a district or region (like East Anglia, Staffordshire, Central England, etc). On that basis alone, Teesside University might have taken a bigger leap in its recent change. Of course elsewhere in the world, some of the most prestigious institutions are called after neither cities nor regions, but people – such as Harvard and Yale universities. There are examples of this in the UK (e,g, Heriot-Watt University, Liverpool John Moores University), but they don’t suggest that this particular approach to naming has yet broken through on this side of the Atlantic.

The question of the name was a very important one for Dublin City University when it acquired university status in 1989. Before then the institution was called the ‘National Institute for Higher Education’. Every so often we now ask ourselves whether the name ‘Dublin City University’ correctly communicates what we are – a focused research driven university, with innovative teaching programmes and close links with industry and our neighbouring district and region. Frankly, we’re not sure, but the name DCU has become so familiar in Ireland that it would make little sense to change it.

In any case, in a recent survey of students in some countries where Irish universities are keen to recruit students, respondents stated that they knew about Dublin City University more than about any other Irish institution. Even though I am hugely proud of DCU and of our achievements, I do confess I find it hard to know how the survey came up with this result. And it may well be that the name sounds ‘familiar’ to those who, frankly, don’t know about any Irish universities at all – so they go for it in the survey. So maybe we are gaining something from our name.

Overall, all universities will need to become better at marketing, and at understanding what marketing does for them. Above all, we need to be professional about it, and to ensure that we have genuine marketing experts on our staff or advising us so that we can communicate what we do more effectively to our stakeholders. Doing so neither cheapens us nor devalues the activities we undertake; it makes them more widely accessible, which is always good.

Anyway, I wish Teesside University well, and look forward to find out over time what their name change has done for them.

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18 Comments on “What’s in a name?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Do you not think that we tend to confuse with our christening of things and places. How much simpler would it have been had they named DCU, the University of Aran. Within the week it would have become Aran. And what lunatic came you with The University of Limerick when they could have used Shannon, thereby missing any connection with ‘There was an Old man from Biafra’. And have a ready made recognisable brand.

    Now, for the love of God, Teesside. A stupid, Tales of the Riverbank sort of a name and with Captain Cook from down the road in Whitby. They are not really serious about the game at all.

  2. Jilly Says:

    When it comes to university names, let’s not forget the brave institution that is Bishop Grosseteste University College, in Lincoln. It’s childish of me, I know, but its name never fails to make me laugh. One can only imagine what its students call it…


    • Maybe disappointingly, Jilly, the students always refer to it as ‘BG’. I know because ‘BG’ was a linked college of the University of Hull when I worked there. However, it has its own degree awarding powers now.

  3. Aidan Says:

    Personally I always thought that Dublin City University was a bit too close to Dublin University. On that point I am always surprised that Trinity tends to use the college name rather than Dublin University to market itself. Trinity College was supposed to be the first of many colleges so there is no reasong why Dublin University could not have another college or affiliate overseas like Chicago University has in Barcelona or indeed Webster University has in Leiden where I did my MBA.
    Naming does matter. I know from experience that employers don’t really look in detail at your CV so somebody who studied at Oxford Brookes University very quickly can be labelled as having studied at Oxford (a direct colleague has this label so believe me, it happens).
    I did a masters at Queen’s and despite my nationalist opinions I think that The Queen’s Univerity of Belfast has a most impressive name (it looks good on a CV). One of my friends had studied at UCG and he asked me to look at his CV as he was applying for some jobs in the UK. He was convinced that everybody would have heard of UCG but I advised him to write the National University of Ireland, Galway rather than University College Galway. During a subsequent interview an interviewer mentioned where he studied emphasizing the National.
    Employers normally expect graduates to be able to do very little without training. Getting in the door is all about sales and as absurd as it is the name of your university can help your sales pitch.

  4. Mathieu Says:

    I was wondering if what you refer to as DCU (Dublin City University) has any relation with UCD (University College Dublin) where my wife sudied via Erasmus for a year and where I met Thomas Bartlett in the course of my “Maîtrise” when I was abroad.


    • Yes, it can be confusing… No, there is no connection between UCD and DCU. University College Dublin is part of the ‘National University of Ireland’, whereas DCU is a separate (autonomous) university. The only very tenuous link is that, in the past before DCU was founded, the campus we now occupy was owned by UCD; they abandoned it in the 1970s.

      • Jilly Says:

        UCD’s ownership of the DCU campus is certainly news to me: how did that come about, and for what (if anything) did they use it?


        • The original owner of what is now the DCU campus (and much of the surrounding area) was Albert College, and agricultural college founded in the early 19th century. In the 1920s this became part of the UCD Agriculture Faculty (though it was still widely known as the Albert College), and that’s how it remained until UCD decided to move all of its agriculture to the Lyons Estate in Co Kildare. A little later we were given the site, or what was left of it after a lot had been given for the Ballymun development.

          • Jilly Says:

            Of course, I should have realised it was the Albert College connection: I well remember the lovely remaining Albert College building on the DCU campus. I must say I didn’t know that it had ever been run as a wing of UCD, however, or that they had owned what is now Ballymun.

            UCD really does have the most complicated history of land/buildings ownership, doesn’t it? If you start at Newman House, work through what is now Government Buildings (bet they wish they’d never given those up, what a lovely place to work they would be), then Carysfort, Albert College and finally Belfield, it’s quite a journey. And not without its own dramas, too, especially regarding the Carysfort to Belfield transfer…


          • Yes, and don’t forget the National Concert Hall…

          • Aoife Citizen Says:

            . . . and the Real Tennis Court.

      • Vincent Says:

        UCD, IS a National University of Ireland. And it is a branding exercise that they do not call themselves so. Et/agus/and, they are wholly autonomous and thank your lucky stars they are, and that UCD became greedy for you do not want the combined OE relay-teaming you for moneys.

        @ Aidan; the awarding body for your friend is both the National University of Ireland (OE) and the National University of Ireland (comma)Galway.

  5. Wendymr Says:

    In the 1990s, what had been the University of Keele suddenly became Keele University, without any fanfare or official announcement. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…

  6. seamus Says:

    a discussion on rebranding and university name changes must include mention of “UCD Dublin” – which is what it says on their official logo nowadays. Does University College Dublin Dublin sound better to prospective employers, I wonder?


    • Yes, I agree that ‘UCD Dublin’ is odd; but then again, we have ‘PIN number’ (= ‘personal identification number number’) and ‘AIB Bank’ (‘Allied Irish Bank Bank’).

  7. cormac Says:

    In a city that already had a “University College Dublin” and a “Dublin University” (the official name for TCD), it was seen by many as a daft choice.
    A Tyndall or Hamilton university (or any other name) would have helped a fine college stand out clearly..

  8. Aoife Citizen Says:

    I always thought that TCD should become the name of the teaching function of the arts and sciences parts of what is now TCD; with UoD or DU used for the whole of the university including the teaching departments and the research institutes and other names found for the different professional schools. Of course, in this plan I would also merge TCD with NCAD and DIT and I assume the Dublin medical schools are destined to merge anyway.

    Of course, this is what people on the Platform 11 site always refer to as crayonism.


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