November 19th, 2018

The major professional organization for physical or biological anthropology is the AAPA, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Founded in 1930, the group has prospered to the present day as a force of scientific anthropology. The organization today is at a crossroads in determining its identity and its future. For the past year, the group has been considering changing its name for the first time ever. 

For better or for worse, the AAPA name has accumulated meaning that informs our current work. ‘Physical anthropology’ harkens back to a time when scientists measured the ill-obtained bones of oppressed groups and made racial conclusions from them. We… don’t do that anymore, so the pro-name-changers believe that our group’s name should better reflect what we actually do now. However, I think names can be inaccurate, a teaching point, a tradition, an albatross, and inspirational all at the same time. Changing the name is a stowing away from our messy history, which may be intended as a good public relations move to literally clear our name, but can also be seen as an effort to hide where our field came from. From the perspective of the student just hearing about anthropology for the first time, well they don’t really care how loaded the name is (source: how their eyes glaze over when I talk about the naming controversy).  

As the AAPA moves towards its name change, the organization put out a survey asking for opinions on the change in general and which potential name to adopt. Here, I will opine on the options. I have slightly reorganized the list to consolidate my thoughts.

  • American Association of Anthropological Sciences
  • American Association of Bio Cultural Anthropology
  • American Association of Biological Anthropologists
  • American Association of Evolutionary Anthropologists
  • American Association of Integrated Integrative Biological Anthropology
  • American Association of Physical and Biological Anthropology


  • Biological Anthropology Association of the United States
  • Society for American Biological Anthropologists

The AAPA was founded in the United States, but from the start it was open to international membership. Over the decades, more members from other nations have joined, making the group less and less American in makeup. This is to our strength, but it does make the name less and less accurate. The human world overall is more internationally connected today, too. The organization still emanates from the United States, but is that really worth naming the organization ‘American’ for that fact? If we are changing names, keeping this flawed label would be counter-productive. 

  • Association of Biological Anthropologists

This works, but is plain. While we’re scientists, some pizazz would be good to attract potential newcomers and get some name recognition. We have to consider media and social media today and how to bring attention to ourselves to spread our knowledge.

  • Biological Anthropology Association

BAA is a sheep sound, so no.

  • Biological Anthropology Association of North America

Sounds too much like BANANA, which is a disgusting fruit.

  • International Association of Biocultural Anthropologists
  • International Association of Biological Anthropologists
  • International Conference for Biological Anthropologists

Just as I’m not keen on pinning us to a particular nation, I think it’s implied that organizations are international unless if specifically named otherwise.

  • International Bio, Cultural Anthropology and Outreach Association

This one is very wordy and cultural anthropology is somehow more prominent in the name than our actual field of anthropology. Nope! And, while outreach is important and should be a part of every professional’s life, it’s not really name-worthy. It’s like adding Reading or Analysis into the name because it’s part of what we do. This name may be the one that sets the low bar so the other names are second-worst at worst. 

  • Society for Biological Anthropologists

The group is definitely a society (ranked hierarchy of interacting members) so it’s accurate. One problem is that the big archaeology group in the United States is the Society of American Archaeologists, so SBA name seems like a copy of SAA. Also, it’s a little plain and unpronounceable. Being able to be spoken as its own word (an acronym) makes the organization sound more open compared to being a string of letters (an initialism). Think of NASA or SHIELD versus IRS and CIA.

While I’m inclined to keep the current name, I do have some suggestions for possible name changes. These names are accurate and they’re true acronyms in that they’re pronounceable as words. We could be the:

  • Associate Body of Biological Anthropologists (ABBA)

I don’t think this name is taken?

Or, we could be:

  • Biological Anthropology Deme And Scientific Society (BADASS)

I know I am.


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