Purpose>The purpose of this paper is to offer direct tests of the effectiveness of renaming vocational education and training (VET) in enhancing the image and popularity of the subject. Although many proponents of renaming argue that the word “vocational” is associated with lower levels of skills and knowledge and should therefore be supplemented by better recognised words, empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness of this strategy is scant.Design/methodology/approach>This study exploits a rare policy change in Hong Kong, where VET was renamed as vocational and professional education and training (VPET) and conducted an original survey experiment of 1,004 parents in the city to test if the new name would improve respondents' perceptions of the subject.Findings>The findings reveal a complex picture regarding the effects of renaming. Although renaming does not seem to improve the overall popularity of vocational education, it may widen the support base for vocational education by diluting its class character. Specifically, while attitudes toward VET are significantly and negatively correlated with family income, no such association is found in regard to VPET.Originality/value>This paper offers the first direct and comprehensive test of the effectiveness of renaming vocational education – a popular policy suggestion in many countries. Its findings complicate conventional expectations and contribute to the study of educational preferences in advanced economies. Copyright © 2022 Emerald Group Publishing Limited.