La Leche League: What's in a Name?
Welda Hörz, LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 33 No. 6, December 1997 - January 1998, pp. 141-42
I am fascinated with people's relationships with words and how they make people think and feel. The name "La Leche League" was chosen, I understand, to use in a culture at a time when it was unacceptable to use the word "breast." In the '50s breastfeeding was far from the societal norm and there was a general prudishness that, thankfully, has diminished considerably over the years. In the '90s, many more women are giving their babies the best start by breastfeeding, thanks in great part to the work of La Leche League. The organization was at the leading edge of this change.
Is the year 2000 the time for LLL to take another step toward the full acceptance of breastfeeding as the normal thing to do? Is it time for La Leche League to change its name?
"To what?" you undoubtedly ask. To something more straightforward that includes the word "breastfeeding," such as "Breastfeeding International" or "The World Breastfeeding Organization."
Several considerations were involved in proposing this change:
- The trend in language is generally toward a more straightforward style of expression. Women today use words differently. What their grandmothers thought of as a discreet or proper way of talking about issues relating to the body, they view as saccharine coating or an attempt to cover up. Advertisers' misuse of language has taught them to mistrust anyone who doesn't come out and say what they mean.
- The current name might contribute to the false notion that LLL members are not just regular mothers but differ in ways that make some women think they're not "like me." The name may seem exotic, sophisticated, oddball, even alien.
- A more straightforward name may help the organization appear more mainstream and would therefore contribute to the public's perception of LLL as an authority on breastfeeding.
- Increasing use of computer technology for locating information means that using a word in our name that is likely to be used in a search ("breastfeeding") would help people find the information LLL provides.
- Much less explanation would be necessary when someone asks the inevitable question, "What is La Leche League?"
I understand that LLL has a long and successful history with its current name and that the name carries considerable weight in some circles. There is a certain sentimental nostalgia in looking back at how far we have all come since the days when "breast" was an unutterable word. Keep in mind that 20-year-olds don't remember those days. If they heard the current name, they would say, "What's that?" Should LLL enter the next millennium with a new name?
La Leche-the Milk
In searching for a name for our new organization, we Founders were struck by the importance placed on breastfeeding by early Spanish settlers in America. In 1598, they dedicated a shrine to "Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto" ("Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk"). The words "happy delivery and plentiful milk" spoke profoundly of yearnings that are common to many mothers. Like women of old, we rejoiced in breastfeeding our babies and wanted to share our newfound knowledge with others. Even though our name came from a religious shrine, we unanimously chose to be a nonsectarian organization from the start. To us, "La Leche" ("The Milk") became as much a symbol as a name. While it was chosen in part because the word "breastfeeding" was not acceptable at that time, in another sense our name's lofty origin reflected the importance we attached to the work we were undertaking.
The LLLI Founders
Thank you for your interest in making LLLI appear more mainstream and increasing our visibility. I appreciate your thoughts about straightforwardness and people's relationships with words.
Your point about computer searches is well taken. Most articles that LLL posts on the World Wide Web contain the word "breastfeeding" within the first few sentences. Most search engines allow the poster to include key words in addition to names. So as our computer technology becomes more sophisticated, this is less of a concern.
Over the history of the organization, the suggestion to change our name has been heard many times. As you noted, when the organization was founded in the late '50s, it was not possible to use the word "breast" in an official title. Now it is easy and culturally acceptable to combine our name and the word breastfeeding in publicity efforts. Leaders can chose a phrase best suited to their needs and locale. For example:
- La Leche League: Breastfeeding Information and Support
- La Leche League: Empowering Mothers through Breastfeeding
- La Leche League: Mothering through Breastfeeding
The LLLI Board of Directors discussed LLL's name at their meeting in February 1997. They concluded, as they have in the past, that we have an identity and reputation built around the name "La Leche League" and our logo. To forgo either of those, after striving 40 years to establish them, would relinquish the hard work and public relations efforts into which we have invested so much.
We contend that the credibility of a local Leader is founded on the name "La Leche League" and the support that name implies to those seeking help with breastfeeding. Any Leader can confidently work with mothers and know that the help she gives has solid roots in scientific research and the combined wisdom of thousands of other women around the world.
In the 1993 Leaders' Survey, an overwhelming number of Leaders asked the organization to put more effort and resources into increasing our name recognition. The Board of Directors is working on several projects to meet this concern. Moving away from that position would seem counter to the wishes of the majority of our Leaders.
Here in Germany we call LLL "La Leche Liga Deutschland" and quite often spend the beginning of each phone conversation explaining what "La Leche Liga" (usually mispronounced) means. I personally have found that explaining our name as well as answering, "Now WHAT is the name of that group you work with?" are great opportunities to enlighten people and get them thinking about breastfeeding. In fact, I wonder if we might get more attention that way than if we had a "regular" name? I have had similar success explaining the name to high school students, my daughter's 20-year-old friends and fellow travelers on the train as I travel to various LLL commitments in Europe.
Selina, the Board encourages you to enjoy the strength of our international organization: You join Leaders around the world in carrying out the work of La Leche League International with its unusual name!
LLLI Board of Directors