From the standpoint of naming practice, the change is understandable. Briefer is better. “Barnabas Health” has a nice rhythm and fits easily on business cards and billboards.
Is there an implied message here? Perhaps “Saint Barnabas” suggests elderly nuns holding hands and whispering prayers instead of providing the latest drugs. Certainly dropping the old-fashioned font and New Jersey logo was an easy call.
But what about dropping that "Saint"? Not an insignificant signal, although the official explanation sidesteps the issue:
Changing our name to Barnabas Health connects our tradition of health care excellence with the promise of a dynamic and progressive future. Barnabas Health also builds on the awareness and positive reputation of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System. Barnabas Health brings a fresh, enthusiastic feel to its brand and identity as New Jersey’s Health Care Leader.
Is the organization now freed from religious sensibilities? Some must fear that practices such as euthanasia and abortion, formerly banned, can now be considered.
As one who resists the fashionable purging of historical references in names and logos, I see a loss of emotional richness in the change. The historical Barnabas was a colleague of Paul and a leader of the early Christian Church. His sainthood was bestowed because of a life sacrificed to his faith and a death suffered for his beliefs. Demoting poor Barnabas to mere citizen—even if only on brochures and ambulances—moves the brand toward secular sameness.
I once worked with the Catholic-affiliated Providence Health and Services—a vast chain of hospitals, clinics and social services stretching from California to Alaska. The Providence leaders were smart, ambitious and kind. They had an endearing custom of starting every meeting with a brief meditation—a prayer, poem or (slightly syrupy) song.
No matter how smart-alecky and jaded we consultants might be, you can stop us in our tracks by starting a review of marketing data with a poem by Robert Frost or a song by John Denver.
And Saint Barnabas? I doubt his soul is troubled by the drop in stature. I doubt the old fellow worries about today's imperatives of brand marketing and corporate growth.