What’s in a UU name? A really LONG name…?

I’m a Unitarian Universalist. Unitarians were historically founded on a message of the oneness of God and a rejection of the trinitarian dogma that God comes in three parts. Universalists, on the other hand, were founded on a message of universal salvation, i.e., no one goes to hell.

When the two denominations merged in the early 1960s, the Unitarians had the membership, and the Universalists had the money. The Unitarian side vowed to honor and remember the Universalist heritage, and not just run off with the nice endowment.  So now I’m a Unitarian Universalist, a member of a 10-syllable denomination that is commonly referred to as UU, but which is also confused with Unity, the Christian denomination; and the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon.

Is that old naming promise still binding on us as Unitarian Universalists in the 21st century? Did the American Unitarian Universalists of 1961 make an agreement about our denomination name that binds us in perpetuity?

I say, Only if we fear that in essence we are still really primarily Unitarian — “we” Unitarians took over “those” Universalists, and so “we” still need to honor our promise to “them.”

If we truly felt ourselves to be Universalist as well as Unitarian, we could decide as Universalists that the old fear of losing our identity and our message is no longer a concern. Universalists could gracefully acknowledge that American society understands the Unitarian name, and that we can call ourselves “Unitarians” without betraying our heritage — any more than we betray our Jewish and Christian roots by not calling our religion “Judeo-Christian-Based Religious Liberal Unitarian Universalists With Buddhist Influences.”

Alternatively, we could start with all-new branding. I love the poetic name “Universalist;” we could use just that name instead.

Look: I have a practical reason for this. I am the Twitter blogger for my congregation, and I blog UU issues on my private Twitter account as well.  I only get 140 characters for each message, and have you counted the letters in “Unitarian Universalist” lately?

I call on the Unitarian Universalist Association (the American denomination) to survey non-UUs, to find out how they understand and respond to the words “Unitarian,” “Universalist,” “Unitarian Universalist,” and “UU.” We talk about growing our denomination, but we’re squandering our biggest asset — a branded name. And it isn’t “Unitarian Universalist.”


3 thoughts on “What’s in a UU name? A really LONG name…?”

  1. Hi. I’m a member of the UU of Arlington, VA. I agree that the UUA needs to solicit market research that reveals how non UUs respond to the name of our faith on a national level. But we also need it at the local level to truly be effective. To me the research would included the questions you state but it would have to go much deeper and add many questions about lifestyle, hopes, family, local community, faith of ones childhood etc. I’m a 15+ year product marketer/developer (digital/internet services). And I’ve noticed that cries from UUs nationwide call for market research that focuses too narrowly on certain lines of questioning. I don’t think we will ever grow unless current day market research practices, informed by UUs but executed by a company outside of UUism, perhaps even outside of any religious affiliation. The irony to me is that UUism sees so much opportunity right now for growth but either wants to talk about how to do it ad nauseum or refuses to do what’s necessary. The search for truth and meaningful growth for UUs, to me is an iterative process.—As an aside, why do we have capital campaigns for building improvements but no campaigns to raise money for membership development and marketing locally? If we don’t grow, there will be no one to pay for or worship in what is made out of the capital campaigns. My church is reading and talking about Michael Durall’s book, The Almost Church Revitalized, it’s a good start to create awareness of how to question and turn inside out everything the church has been doing. We’ve launched an online ministry, through uucava.org, which represents, in my opinion, a shift in marketing paradigm. We do not explain ourselves. We show ourselves living our beliefs and doing our deeds. I’m grateful that the church is willing to take a risk and leverage social technology to its advantage. There’s alot more we can be doing with it. –Well, ’nuff said here. I appreciate your blog. June


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