What's in a name? Not much, according to National Public Radio, which now wants to be known only as NPR. The rationale for the rechristening is that the network now transmits its programming not only on radio but through various digital devices. Fair enough.
Still, we lament the general trend of replacing names, some of them still perfectly descriptive, with initials and acronyms. We're a long way from 1959, when "The Elements of Style," still a usage bible for many journalists, lectured writers as follows: "Do not use initials for the names of organizations or movements unless you are certain the initials will be readily understood."
Acronyms at least form words, such as "laser," an abbreviation for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." Some even hint at what they stand for, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, an abbreviation for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Or DASH, the short-haul transit system once known as Downtown-Area Short-Hop.
Most abbreviations, however, are just a jumble of letters. And some actually conceal information about what's being described. That's the case with the substitution of BP for British Petroleum (though the old name has been revived by Americans who like to think that foreigners despoiled the Gulf of Mexico) and the replacement of the American Assn. of Retired Persons with AARP. Marketers for KFC apparently concluded that the name Kentucky Fried Chicken might force customers to confront exactly what made their meat finger-lickin' good.