Wow! That is a big word. Etymology means “the history and origin of words”. In this case, as it applies to us, is the origin of the name “What Would Jesus Do?”
You would think that we came up with our own name. Many organizations do. There are the I.B.M.s and Xeroxs of the world. Then there is Apple computer which started from memories of being a fruit picker. All were derived from the organizations involved. These are really brand names since they are also the names of the products that these companies sell.
A small case in point. Xerox at one time wanted to trademark its own name as it related to the process of making a document copy. Too many of its competitors were making copiers and referring to Xerox as in “Xerox this” or “Xerox that”. The court refused to allow the trademark because the name had fallen into “common use”.
There are service organizations such as The American Red Cross. It’s name originated from its logo or emblem, a Red Cross on a white background. We are a service organization as well. But our name comes from a different source.
The name itself may have started as early as the late 19th century. In 1896, Charles Sheldon wrote a book that he called In His Steps. The subtitle was What Would Jesus Do? The book was actually about Christian Socialism. The book was popular at that time and was translated into more than twenty languages about 40 years later. It was about a homeless man who asks the reverend why so many Christians ignore the poor.
But do to an error by the publisher, the book was never copyrighted. It was reprinted again and again, selling more than 30 million copies. Of all of the copies that were printed, he was denied most of the royalties because the book was not copyrighted. In some cases, some publishers felt sorry for the author and would send him a pittance of the normal royalties. Still, he felt that his point was made and was happy that so many people were interested in his book.
This takes us to the 1990s and the appearance of bracelets that said “W.W.J.D.”
Janie Tinkelberg, a youth leader in Holland, Michigan, read the book and took the title to heart. What Would Jesus Do became a guiding light for her group of people. She wanted the message to remain in their memory and focused so she put the initials on a wristband for her group because at that time bands were the “rage” and exchanged between friends. The problem was that the name was too long for the band so she just used the initials, WWJD.
The wrist band with WWJD was born. And to many, just the initials was a large selling point since it attracted attention and required the owner to explain that WWJD stood for What Would Jesus Do. Janie stumbled upon a gold mine and before long her supply ran out and she needed to make more. In a few months the company making them was making millions of their own. Other companies copied it and soon WWJD was everywhere.
Then things became even more strange. Soon there were board games and $400 necklaces. This was becoming too commercial. It had nothing to do with the original mission but was now down upon the “money changers” who had taken it over to use it as a commercial vehicle.
To try to control its name and to use the funds for a non-profit youth ministry, Janie applied for a trademark on the WWJD. She was denied the trademark because she had waited too long and the name was in “public domain”.
None of that applies to us. We are not associated with a bracelet, wristband, necklaces, board game, or anything else of a commercial nature for the name. However, it is interesting to note that the name was not our own either. We did not coin it. It was coined more than a century ago by a book similar to our following and dealing with the homeless. The book is available on Amazon if you are interested. The book is in public domain and a copy is free from Amazon if you want it for their Kindle reader.
So, I guess that we can trace our roots back to the late 19th century. How’s that for a history.
In the book, we are still trying to answer the homeless man’s question of why are so many Christians against the homeless? We don’t know the answer to that question.