How 8 Popular Brands Got Their Names

  • What's In a Name?

    NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Was Betty Crocker a real woman—and why would anyone name frozen pizza after a symbol of the dead? If you've ever found yourself pondering the backstory behind popular brand names, you're in good company. In 2011 MainStreet published an article that uncovered the story behind the naming of eight well-known products, from Viagra to Triscuits, revealing some interesting behind-the-scenes details. But that wasn't enough to satisfy our curiosity, so we've researched the origins of eight additional brand names that may also surprise you. Read on for the full list.
  • Snickers

    Packed with peanuts, caramel and nougat coated with milk chocolate, Snickers first hit the market back in 1930 when it sold for just 5 cents apiece. It turns out that "Snickers" was actually named after a four-legged friend of Frank Mars, the man who invented Snickers and founded renowned chocolate and food manufacturer Mars, Incorporated. We're not talking about a dog, though, but rather a favorite horse of the Mars family, a company spokesperson tells us.
  • Tombstone

    Its macabre name hasn't stopped Tombstone from achieving huge success in the frozen pizza industry, but why was the name chosen in the first place? Well, because Tombstone pizzas were first invented at "The Tombstone Tap," a bar located across a graveyard in Medford, Wis., back in 1962. According to information provided by a company spokesperson, after the bar's co-owner, Joe Simek, broke his leg dancing the "Peppermint Twist," he experimented with various pizza recipes in the kitchen of the Tap while recuperating. The tasty pizzas were an instant success with customers, and soon other local bar owners and bowling alley operators asked Joe and his brother, Ron, to freeze pizzas for them to buy and serve to their customers. In just a few years business was booming, and the Simek brothers converted the living space in the Tap into a frozen pizza factory, hired nine employees and purchased a refrigerated truck. The rest, as they say, is history—and a tasty one, indeed. Today the nationally distributed frozen pizza brand is owned by Nestlé and available in more than 12 different flavor varieties and multiple crust types (garlic bread pizza, anyone?).
  • Starbucks

    We can thank 19th-century author Herman Melville for inspiring the name of one of America's favorite coffee-house chains. Founded in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market in 1971, Starbucks was named after "Starbuck," the first mate of the ship Pequod in the literary classic Moby-Dick. According to, the name was chosen, because it "evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders."
  • Gerber

    Oftentimes brands are named after their founders, as is the case with baby food giant Gerber. The brand's story started in the summer of 1927 when parents Daniel and Dorothy Gerber followed their pediatrician's advice and began straining solid foods in their kitchen for their baby daughter, Sally. The Gerbers already owned a canning business in Fremont, Mich., so they decided to strain fruits and veggies at their plant. Soon workers at the plant requested samples for their own babies, and by late 1928, the Gerbers' strained peas, prunes, carrots, spinach and beef vegetable soups were ready for the national market.
    Betty Crocker
  • Betty Crocker

    From baking mixes to fruit snacks to frosting, Betty Crocker products are staples in countless American kitchens. Betty Crocker, though, never actually existed. The name was created by the Washburn Crosby Company, a flour-milling company and predecessor of General Mills. The "birth" of Betty Crocker began when a promotion for Gold Medal flour in 1921 offered consumers a pin cushion resembling a flour sack if they successfully put together a jigsaw puzzle of a milling scene. The Washburn Crosby Company received thousands of responses and myriad questions about baking. "Betty Crocker" was then created as a signature to personalize the responses to those questions. The surname Crocker was chosen to honor a popular, recently retired director of the company, William G. Crocker, while Betty was chosen simply because it sounded friendly. Another fun fact: Female employees were invited to submit sample Betty Crocker signatures, and the one that was chosen is the basis for the signature on the brand's logo that is still used today.
  • Wheaties

    Marketed today as "the breakfast of champions" with top athletes proudly displayed on its boxes, Wheaties was first invented—or shall we say discovered—by a health clinician in Minneapolis back in 1921. As the story goes, the clinician was mixing a batch of bran gruel for his patients when he accidentally spilled some of the mix on a hot stove and the gruel crackled and sizzled into crisp flakes. The clinician decided to show the flakes to the Washburn Crosby Company, predecessor of General Mills, where head miller George Cormack strengthened the flakes so that they would not turn into dust when placed inside a cereal box. Of course, this new ingenious cereal needed a name, so the Washburn Crosby Company held a company-wide contest. Jane Bauman, wife of the export manager, won with her suggestion to call the flakes "Wheaties," beating out many other entries including "Nutties" and "Gold Medal Flakes." In our opinion, Jane was right on. Could you really picture Olympiads and pro sports stars gracing the boxes of "Nutties" cereal? We didn't think so.

    "Monster" may sound like a pretty odd name for a website intended to help people find jobs, but the story behind the leading employment site is pretty inspiring for budding entrepreneurs. According to a company spokesperson, Monster's story started in the summer of 1993 when founder Jeff Taylor was president of Adion, a niche recruitment advertising agency. Although the majority of companies were using newspapers for recruiting at that time, Taylor's clients were finding it difficult to recruit candidates with technical skills using good old-fashioned newspapers. One morning, Taylor awoke with a "monster" idea to start an Internet job board, which he called The Monster Board. Taylor was told by employers that his idea would fail, because they would not associate with a brand called such a silly name, but he didn't listen—and it's a good thing.

    If you paid attention in high school Spanish class, you might be able to guess how popular online retailer—best known for its footwear (hint, hint)—got its name. Founded in 1999, the website was first named However, according to information provided by, when investment firm Venture Frogs came onboard to fund the company it wanted to think long-term and felt was too limiting. The site's name was soon changed to Zappos, which is derived from "zapatos," the Spanish word for shoes. The name change was a wise choice, indeed—today the site sells everything from clothing to handbags to cosmetics, in addition to shoes, of course.
Show Comments