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Consumer Behavior

Why Are Hospice Names So Odd?

It isn't about dying. It's about aspiring, transitioning, taking a trip.

When choosing the best hospice for a loved one, look past the name. As competition heats up, hospices rebrand to stand out as the most soothing and customer-friendly among many providers. That is, they skirt the whole death thing.

Take, for example, Transitions Hospice of Huntley, IL. And the country’s biggest hospice provider, VITAS, sounds like a gym or a vitamin supplement. But my favorite in the realm of impossibility comes from central Tennessee: Alive Hospice.

A little perspective: Hospices are amateurs next to residential care facilities in taking liberties with their names. My grandfather was not on vacation in Tuscany when he died in a place called Holiday Villa.

A brand name with the word “hospice” is scary enough.

Like any other business or non-profit organizations, hospices often simply take the name of their city or county. In New York State United Hospice of Rockland, Inc., serves Rockland and lower Orange counties. So far, so good. The local name has the comfort of familiarity.

But location-named hospices often merge or expand and must lose the beloved founding name of their original community. The second hospice in America, Hospice of Marin expanded into neighboring counties and became Hospice by the (San Francisco) Bay. That, too, made sense. But what will happen in Virginia, where two regional hospices are in merger discussions? To be fair, the new entity would be an unwieldy mouthful: the Hospice of the Piedmont and of the Rapidan. You can be sure it won’t.

Sometimes the geography is more generic than specific. Valleys are popular. You can find one Hospice of the Valley in central Arizona, another in Silicon Valley, and Southern California offers the Hospice of the Valleys. All of them get to use the familiar freeway acronym HOV. After all, death is the definitive high occupancy vehicle. Everybody goes there.

Beyond the comfort of a familiar location, three themes dominate hospice names:

1. Being cared for

2. Taking a journey

3. Finding hope and peace

The logo, a symbol representing what the hospice can do for you, is tasked with representing them all. Marketing expert Laura Lake offers this general counsel: “Make sure that the logo you select is not dated but can be used effectively year after year. Keep in mind it is how consumers will recognize your company.”

That must be why hospices like logos of cupped hands and figures embracing. They don’t go out of style or change with a merger.

Comforting names include Loving Hands Hospice, Chicago; Heart to Heart Hospice of Northwest Indiana, and Hospice of the Comforter, in Seminole, Florida. Caring Hands Hospice Inc. of Batesville, Arkansas, hammers the point with its logo: two hands cupping a heart. For an even bigger embrace, there is Almost Family, Inc., of Louisville, Kentucky. Angels also enter the picture at places such as Guardian Angel Hospice, Lafayette, Ind., and Angels Grace, Bolingbrook Ill.

Families in many states take journeys with Odyssey, Passages and Pathways hospices. They can also aspire or ascend. In changing names from Care Alternatives to Ascend Hospice, the multi-state company’s press release (Cranford, NJ (PRWEB) July 22, 2014) explains:

Meaning “to move, climb, go upward or reach a higher point,” the name ‘Ascend’ was fittingly chosen to reflect the company’s commitment to helping patients attain the highest quality of life.

For now, anyway, the website has “Ascend Hospice” in big letters with “formerly Care Alternatives” much smaller underneath.

The whole point (with hospices or any company), says marketing consultant Laura Lake is: “to understand that branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.”

Therefore, many hospice names are all about hope for a peaceful passing. Look to Blue Skies Hospice, in Indiana and Illinois; Serenity Hospice of Lafayette, IN; and the Hospice of Hope, in Maysville, Kentucky. Arkansas is big on dying in peace. It could be facilitated by Serenity Hospice, in Texarkana; Circle of Life in Springdale; or Haven Hospice, in West Memphis. Florida also is awash in Haven Hospices.

In Alaska, the state is one kind of last frontier, death another. The marketers of Heavenly Homecare in Anchorage, Alaska, took advantage of both meanings in crafting the slogan for a downtown billboard I saw recently: “First in Care for the Last Frontier.”

Any good ones I’ve missed?

--Sheila Himmel

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