Edgy, Quirky, & Scandalous: How 10 Companies Got Their Name

There are products, companies and brands that become ubiquitous, timeless, part of the vernacular, pop cultural phenoms. You’ll find them in your local drugstore and grocery isle. But if you’ve ever wondered how they came to be, read on. All the names listed are at least 50 years old and have the iconic branding that most new companies dream of. Be sure to check back as we spotlight one of the current trends in branding, NSFW: When giving your product an edge, how being a little naughty gets attention.


In the lexicon for ages, Kleenex is more than just an ordinary tissue. Turns out that Kotex, the feminine hygiene product wasn’t quite catching on yet, it was the 20’s after all and the excess supply of creped wadding needed to be used. So with a bit of creative marketing and the slight altering of ingredient blends, the softer tissue intended to replace the cold cream towel was born anew. The word “cleansing,” became “clean,” while the “K” and the “ex” were lifted from the Kotex brand.

M & M’s

Chocolate pellets in a hard candy shell meant to withstand warm temperatures harken back to the Spanish Civil war. Fast forward to 2000 when M&M’s became the “candy of the new millennium” the numerical value MM made it so. The simple explanation of how the name came to be, had more to do with the founders Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie, M&M, an abbreviation of their last names. It wasn’t till 1954 that Mars began printing the “m” and distinguished it from the copycats that tried to replicate their success.


Synonymous with clean, Ivory began quite by accident, when in 1881, a worker forgot to turn off a machine, and a bit of air got whipped in. A floating bar of soap became its selling point, It Floats!” its slogan. They named the soap ‘Ivory’, not so much because of its color, but because Proctor (P&G) was inspired by a Sunday sermon. Biblical verse, Psalms 45:8, mention of myrrh, aloes, cassia, and ivory palaces, gave Mr. Proctor his revelation.

Tootsie Roll

Every year when Halloween comes around, you’ll invariably find one of these candies inside a trick or treat bag. The first penny candy individually wrapped was introduced in 1896, in a little candy shop in New York City. Created by Leo Hirshfield, an Austrian immigrant, the Tootsie Roll has gone on to make millions. It was his five-year-old daughter, nicknamed “Tootsie,” that inspired the name we all know today.


Yes its true, Twinkies are back! With a 45-day shelf life, its new company parent hopes to sell their snack cake amid fanfare. Made popular in the 50’s thanks to the Howdy Doody show, and with the threat of a nuclear attack in the 60’s, Twinkies long shelf life made it a cupboard staple. The Continental Baking Company got its idea for the spongy gooey treat back in 1933 when one of their bakers, James A. Dewar drove by a billboard, an ad for “Twinkle Toe shoe,” caught his eye. Voila, Twinkies was born!


Aunt Jemima

We know it is as the sweet confectionary syrup, with the old-timey smiley face, Aunt Jemima, meant to be poured on pancakes and waffles with aplomb. Turns out she is a real person, Anna Short Harrington, an employee of Quaker Oat who died in 1955. Her likeness inspired the brand, but judging by a lawsuit directed at PepsiCo and Quaker Oats to the tune of $2 billion, her heirs are none to pleased. After all, it was her recipe that was used for the pancake & waffle mixes and syrups that have graced grocery store shelves for more than 70 years. The controversy doesn’t end there either. The name Aunt Jemima sprang from an old minstrel song presented by blackface performers, “Old Aunt Jemima,” circa 1875.



Coca Cola is hyped as the most popular and biggest-selling soft drink in history. You’ll find it everywhere: backyard barbecues, tailgate parties, as American as apple pie. But its origins don’t have the squeaky clean image it appears to be. The main ingredients: a coca leaf, which is where cocaine comes from, and cola berries both give it the flavorful zest. Originally marketed as a headache cure until the government cracked down on cocaine, which is when they took out the main ingredient but kept the name.


By now we’re all familiar with Playboy, the mag, the brand, and the bunny. But what many don’t realize is, it might have been called Stag Party had it not been for another men’s magazine called Stag, which threatened legal action if Hugh went ahead and used the name. Perhaps it was meant to be, since Stag folded in the 90’s, while Playboy is still throwing parties at the mansion complete with calendar girls and the resident octogenarian and his runaway bride. The new name came at the suggestion of one of Hefner’s associates, Eldon Sellers. Turns out his mother had been an employee at the Playboy Automotive Company, hence the name.


Tampons dates back centuries, the ancient Egyptians assembled tampons from softened papyrus, the Romans wool, in Japan, paper. It took awhile for commercial disposable tampons to catch on, especially when bulky pads were the norm. During the 30’s the inventor of Tampax, Dr. Earle C. Haas, got inspiration from his wife’s menstrual cycle and sought to find a solution when he had his eureka moment. The name “Tampax,” put together using the word ‘tampon’, and ‘vaginal pack’ can be found in any drugstore today. But it wasn’t till 1986 when Consumer Reports chose tampons as, “one of the 50 small wonders (out of a possible 100,000) that revolutionized the lives of consumers.” It has come a long way from the 1940’s when, “Tampax ladies” were hired as consultants; visiting colleges, trade shows and conventions to help educate the public.

Cracker Jack

Most of us are familiar with the Cracker Jack box, and finding the toy surprise stuck at the bottom. I remember eating the molasses covered sugary bits at ball games, singing, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!” The names origins go all the way back to 1896 when a very excited sampler exclaimed: “That’s a crackerjack!” Slang for, “excellent quality.”



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