There are plenty of brands out there that are named after real people, who once lived real lives and, in many cases, actually invented the product that's named after them. Look at Chef Boyardee, for example. Hector Boiardi ran a popular Italian restaurant in Cleveland in the 1920s, and his recipes were so popular that people convinced him to mass-market them. So he changed his last name's spelling to make it easier to pronounce, slapped it on a can, and boom, Chef Boyardee was born. But not all brands involving a person's name have origins that are so cut and dry. In several cases it's not clear whether the namesake ever actually lived, and in many cases the person the brand is named after never existed at all. (Credit: itemmaster.com)
So why would a brand name itself after someone completely fictitious? In some cases, the name simply sounds good. Doesn't pancake syrup called Mrs. Butterworth's just sound delicious? In other cases, they were created by advertising agencies to give a friendly face to a faceless company. Others, like Mr. Coffee, well, we don't think they were trying to fool anyone with that one.
The most interesting brand names based on fictitious people, by far, are those that were devised with the express purpose of playing up the concept of "idealized domesticity," which was a big marketing trend around the turn of the 20th century. When inventor Chris L. Rutt wanted to sell his pancake flour, he went for the stereotypical "mammy" archetype and took the name "Aunt Jemima" from a popular minstrel song. They even hired a former slave, Nancy Green, to be the first spokesperson. Another example of this trend (while not a brand name) is Cream of Wheat's African-American mascot Rastus, who graced boxes of the stuff, wearing his chef's whites, from the 1890s until the 1920s. And Uncle Ben's rice is still very cagey on whether Uncle Ben actually ever existed.
So the next time you're in the supermarket and see a brand that you think might be named after someone, don't automatically assume it is. While it might seem like that smiling face on the box must be that of the inventor, don't forget that the concept of idealized domesticity is still very powerful in the marketing world, and there are plenty of products that are still playing it up, albeit in a slightly more politically correct way.
Click here to learn about eight food and drink brands that were named after eight completely fictional people, ranked according to the legendary status of their mythical namesakes. And if you're interested in learning about the real people behind 17 famous food brands, you can find that right here.
- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
While there might have been several Dr. Peppers throughout history, none of them invented any popular sodas, including the one that was devised by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas, in the early 1880s and soon took the name Dr. Pepper. No one can say for sure how the name came about, but there are a few theories: Some contend that it got its name because it contained pepsin (similar to how Pepsi got its name); others argue that its initial use as a tonic was intended to "pep" you up. There’s a popular myth that the drink was named after one Dr. Charles T. Pepper, who supposedly granted Wade Morrison, the owner of the drug store where Alderton worked, permission to marry his daughter or offered him his first job. They lived nowhere near each other, though, and Pepper’s daughter would have been only 8 years old at the time. So while Morrison very well might have been acquainted with a doctor by the last name of Pepper (he apparently also lived near one for a time, according to census records, and may have even had a thing for his daughter), the good doctor most likely had nothing to do with the naming of his soda. Click here to see More Famous Fake Food Figureheads Credit: itemmaster.com
Uncle Ben's is one of the top-selling rice brands in the United States, and Uncle Ben’s smiling visage adorns every package of his famous rice. But is it really his? Introduced by Converted Rice Inc. in 1946 and later bought by Mars, the rice is par-boiled and treated to avoid weevil infestation and contains more nutrients than regular rice. The elderly, bow tie-clad African-American man whose face appears on every package might have been influenced by a Chicago maître d’ named Frank Brown, and the company maintains on its website that "a black Texan farmer — known as Uncle Ben — who grew rice so well [that] people compared CONVERTED® Brand Rice to his standard of excellence" inspired the brand name. This could all be marketing ploy, as it sounds a little too good to be true, and the company did not respond to our inquiries, so we’re going to go ahead and say that the jury is still out on this one. Credit: itemmaster.com
The jury most certainly isn’t out on Aunt Jemima, who originally was a character in a popular minstrel song. When Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood invented an instant pancake flour in the late 1800s, they decided to use the song’s character of "Old Aunt Jemima" for the company logo, symbolizing the traditional "mammy" who lived to serve. By the time the duo’s company was acquired by Quaker Oats in 1926, Aunt Jemima was firmly engrained in American culture, having been portrayed at expositions and state fairs by Nancy Green, a former slave who played the role from 1893 until her death in 1923. The legend at the time was that this lady, and the seven others who played the role, was a real cook who made the finest pancakes around. Her smiling visage still adorns Aunt Jemima pancake mix today, but there’s obviously been an effort to tone it down; instead of a head-rag and maid’s outfit all we see if a close-up of her face. Credit: itemmaster.com
No, Virginia, there’s no such thing as Betty Crocker, and she never existed. Betty Crocker was invented in 1921 by the Washburn Crosby Company (several years before it was renamed General Mills), in order to provide a personalized response to inquiries about their consumer products. Marjorie Husted, an economist employed by the company, devised the name, and in 1924 she launched, wrote, and provided the voice for radio show Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, which ran through 1953 and helped give Betty a level of fame matched by few (in 1945 Crocker was named by Fortune magazine as the second most popular American woman, behind Eleanor Roosevelt). Her name has adorned cookbooks, catalogues, and more recently cake mix, and while her face and voice might be familiar to millions of Americans, she's completely fictitious. Click here to see More Famous Fake Food Figureheads Credit: itemmaster.com
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