The name ‘Alexander Technique’ or ‘F. M. Alexander Technique’ was not used by Alexander originally, but it came about gradually and it appears to have been used for lack of a better name. By the 1940s it became the established name for Alexander’s work.
For many years Alexander did not settle on a name, but used a variety of names as he developed his technique, examples include:
- The Art of Breathing (1895)
- The New Method (1900)
- The perfect respiratory treatment (1903)
- The Alexander Breathing Method (1905)
- Mr F. Matthias Alexander’s New Method of Respiratory and Vocal Re-Education (1906)
- A New Method of Respiratory Vocal Re-Education (1906, 1907)
- Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems (1908)
The Leeper report of 1909 refers to Alexander’s technique as ‘his [Alexander’s] method of what he calls respiratory re-education.’
He obviously struggled to find a name as in 1909 Alexander changed the name to a longer version of ‘Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’:
It will at once be seen, therefore, that the act of breathing is not a primary, or even a secondary, part of the process, which is really a re-education of the kinæsthetic systems associated with correct bodily postures and respiration, and will be referred to universally as such in the near future.
The word ‘technique’ was first used by Alexander in CCC, not prefaced by a name, but for example referred to as ‘a teaching technique’ or ‘my technique’. For example:
It is for this reason that ‘correct positions’ or ‘postures’ find no place in the practical teaching technique employed in the work of re-education advocated in this book.
Some instances where Alexander refers to it as ‘my technique’ occur in CCC.
In the UoS there are many references to ‘technique’ (e.g. the chapter ‘Evolution of a Technique’), but not with a name; instead he uses phrases such as ‘the technique which I advocate’, ‘the technique I have described’, ‘the technique which I have outlined’, etc. John Dewey, in his Introduction, refers to ‘Mr. Alexander’s technique’, which possibly is the first appearance in print it is named thus. This is repeated in various articles by people writing on the Technique, e.g. the letter by 19 doctors in the British Medical Journal in 1937, which refers to ‘the employment of Alexander’s technique’.
The first ever appearance of the ‘Alexander technique’ appears in Waldo Frank’s review of MSI in the US in 1919. Frank goes on to compare Alexander’s method with Freud’s, and writes that ‘the Alexander technique is more than the mere converse of the Freudian’. The review was republished in Waldo Frank’s Salvos (1924).
In the UK the first appearance is in 1928 in a letter by the Earl of Lytton. It is used in 1936 in a South African newspaper reporting on a talk by Irene Tasker. The next time it is used is 1939 in an article in the US. Thereafter it is frequently used in letters and articles, first in South Africa and the US, and gradually in the UK. For example, I. G. Griffith gave an address in c. 1941, in South Africa, titled ‘The Alexander Technique as I know it’ and also used ‘The Alexander Technique’ in a 1943 address. Crundall’s article in The Optician in 1941 is titled ‘The Alexander Technique and its relation to some unsolved ocular problems’.
The 1935 pamphlet advertising the F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund calls it ‘A New Technique’ – Employed in acquiring an improved use of the the self while learning and learning to do.’
In a letter in 1943 Alexander refers to ‘Alexander technique’:
All goes along very well and Miss Goldie has been appointed to take charge of a group of children of the Friends Yearly Meeting Schools, Philadelphia, their education to be based on the Alexander technique.
He also refers to it in a 1944 letter. In a letter to F. P. Jones he advises Jones to call himself ‘Certified teacher of the F. Matthias Alexander Technique’.
In 1946 the prospectus for the Alexander’s teacher training course states on the front: ‘General particulars of the training course for teachers of the F. Matthias Alexander Technique’. As this would have been produced with Alexander’s approval, this may the first ‘official’ recognised term. And circa 1948 a flyer issued by his teaching practice at 16 Ashley Place, is headed: ‘The F. Matthias Alexander Technique’ (subtitle: ‘evolved for changing and improving the use of the self’).
By 1950 it can be said the name was established as most references to the technique now use the name.
The F. Matthias Alexander Technique
Walter Carrington wrote in 1984:
Mr Alexander always insisted that we should refer to his work as ‘The F. Matthias Alexander Technique’; for, he said, anyone by the name of Alexander can claim that they teach the ‘Alexander Technique.’
This may also have been in order to avoid confusion with Gerda Alexander’s work. However, today, most people refer to the Alexander Technique.
Alexander never himself refers to ‘the Alexander Technique’. Not having decided upon a name he referred for many years to it as ‘the work’.  Prior to the 1930s others also would refer to it as ‘Alexander’s work’.
Lulie Westfeldt, writing on her training with Alexander in the early 1930s, said:
Alexander felt an enormous burden of responsibility for ‘the work’ as he always called it.
It would appear that whereas Alexander did not have the need to put a name to his work, other people, writing on his work, needed a name, and gradually the reference to Alexander’s technique became the Alexander Technique.
Alexander’s difficulty in deciding upon a name may have to do with having to avoid it being a ‘system’:
My work is in the wide sense educational, but it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be labelled a ‘system,’ for that implies something limited, complete, calling for the employment of direct means in the gaining of ends; whereas in my technique the procedures are carried out by indirect means which lead the pupil from the known (wrong) to the unknown (right) in experience, the first imperative in the employment of these procedures being to provide for the child, adolescent, or adult the ‘means-whereby’ or standard by which, first, to judge and direct his own psycho-physical mechanisms in the activities of life, and then, in accordance with this standard, to judge the value of ideals and suggestions proposed to him in experience.
Discussions of name
The name has been subject to criticism and alternatives have been suggested over the years.
Erika Whittaker, who trained before the word ‘technique’ was generally adopted, said in an interview: ‘But all that we [training course students] wanted to do was the Alexander work! And, unfortunately, now it has become the Alexander “Technique”. And I hate that word. A “technique” is something that you learn, and then you’re good at it and you can go away and do it. That’s not the Alexander work at all.’
Dr Wilfred Barlow suggested ‘ortho-static’ (‘ortho’ meaning ‘rectification or correction of deformity’ and ‘stat’ meaning ‘pertaining to bodies at rest and in equilibrium’). He also suggested the term ‘postural re-education’.
‘Humanology’ was suggested by Jørgen Haahr as the ‘study of the basis of human reaction (and functioning)’ and that the Alexander Technique is a technique for this study.
‘Neurodynamics’ is used by Ted Dimon instead of the Alexander Technique.
Elizabeth Langford defended the name ‘Alexander Technique’ since the name of individuals have been given to many different things, e.g. Wellingtons, sandwiches, cardigans, hoovers, biros.
The Oxford English Dictionary has the name as ‘the Alexander technique’ but among Alexander teachers it has become standard to capitalise ‘Technique’, partly to emphasise the name, partly to ensure that when using the shorthand ‘the Technique’ it refers to the Alexander Technique and not ‘technique’ as in ‘method’.