A Patron By Any Other Name Would Still Give You Money

Cash Register
Photo courtesy of flickr
I’ve been thinking lately that the term Patron to describe a customer of an arts organization sounds a little precious. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m wondering what would happen if companies started using a different word.

The American Heritage Dictionary has several definitions for patron, these are the relevant ones:

  • n. One that supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause; a sponsor or benefactor: a patron of the arts.
  • n. A customer, especially a regular customer.
  • n. A noble or wealthy person in ancient Rome who granted favor and protection to someone in exchange for certain services.

Some people just come to see a play. Once. Are they a patron? Is there anything wrong with calling them a customer? I realize that customer connotes a transactional relationship. Are we trying to make them feel important and conjure an image of definition #3 or are we distracting ourselves from the fact that there is a transactional relationship where they exchange money for entertainment?

I have no answers, I just bring questions.

What do you think? Is there another word you use? Am I wasting brain power on a word that works just fine?

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