You’ve seen Mayo Clinic on the U.S. News & World Report listing of America’s top hospitals. Each month, millions of people around the world type "Mayo Clinic" into search engines for online health information. Studies show that Mayo Clinic is one of the world’s best known and most trusted brand names.
Given the stature of Mayo Clinic, it can be surprising to learn that this name was not developed by a high-powered consulting firm. Audience analytics and focus group metrics played no part in creating it. For that matter, even the people who worked at Mayo Clinic did not come up with the title.
Instead, the name originated in an informal, grass-roots manner.
From the earliest days of their careers, William J. Mayo, M.D., and Charles Mayo, M.D., had an open-door philosophy. They traveled widely throughout the U.S. and around the world to learn best practices. They welcomed colleagues from near and far who wanted to visit Rochester and learn from them.
So great was the demand that in the early 1900s, the Mayo brothers had an observation gallery set up in the operating room. Visitors could look down to where the procedure was being performed and ask questions of the surgical team. Alternatively, an angled mirror on the ceiling above the operating table enabled visitors to watch the procedure in detail.
Visiting physicians called these informal educational sessions “the Mayos’ clinic.” They used “clinic” in the sense that contemporary physicians describe a program in continuing medical education.
Railroads picked up the shorthand reference, which evolved into the phrase “Mayo Clinic.” It was popularized by the emerging mass media as newspapers and magazines reached a national audience.
Certainly “Mayo Clinic” was preferable to the official title of the institution at that time. Like most professional organizations, its title was a list of partners’ names, which grew longer as more physicians joined the practice. By the 1910s, patients sought appointments with “The Doctors Mayo, Graham, Plummer, Judd, and Balfour”—challenging to list on letterhead stationery and impossible to use in everyday conversation. Dr. Will, in his understated way, usually referred to them as “the group.”
In 1914, Mayo Clinic opened its first custom-designed building, located where the Siebens Building now stands. The name “Mayo Clinic” was carved above the door. Although the institution has included various legal entities within its corporate structure over the years, “Mayo Clinic” has been the official name ever since.