Sunday, 10 November 2013


When Munzly suggested I look at the origins of some trade names I felt sure I had covered the subject before. A quick search and I find my memory was a little off, for it was not a blog but a crossword produced many years ago. On the subject of crosswords, the only writing challenge I accepted but failed to meet was when a magazine asked for a 15x15 grid where every answer was related to tobacco and smoking. While I saw it as a near impossible task I could not resist trying. In fact I found it easier to quit smoking than I did the challenge.

As the subject of trade and product names is vast, I decided to opt for just 26, one from each letter of the alphabet. These were chosen mainly because they have been on the shelves for such a long time and because I found the product name of interest, and not because I’m being sponsored by any of them (yet). For the first I did consider using ACME, which everyone will recognize as the name stamped on every package sent to Wile E. Coyote and containing any number of items he hoped would see an end to the abysmal Road Runner. Yet many years before Warner Brothers produced the first cartoon featuring this duo, the name had been used by a Birmingham company, J Hudson and Co soon after it was founded in 1883. This firm produced whistles. Included in the range was the famous police whistle, referees whistles, and even an attempt to fool Japanese soldiers in the Asian jungles in thinking they were being stalked by tigers – the sound was realistic enough, as I witnessed, its failure was down to the rattling noises made when transporting the large metal item which looked nothing like a whistle. Of particular interest to us here is the Acme Thunderer, a whistle which uses the Greek acme meaning ‘high point’ to suggest this was the epitome of whistles. Today such names would never be allowed, unlike the following.

Atora – which makes such wonderful things as steak and kidney pudding, is the shredded fat from a bull. Initially the company’s supplies came from South America where the Spanish for ‘from a bull’ was a toro and the name was born.

Britvic – although the company no longer exists their juices the produced still have the name derived from British Vitamin Products.

Cherry Blossom – it always seemed an odd choice for shoe polish with an aroma nothing like that of the flower of the fruit tree. As a name it was used for a soap, suitably perfumed, and sold in a tin by the Chiswick Soap Company of London. The soap had been off the shelves for a reasonable period when the name (and apparently the tin) was revived for the name of the show polish.

Dettol – when this disinfectant was first produced in the 1930s it was going to be called Disinfectol, but this was considered too clinical and quickly abbreviated.

England’s Glory – was suggested by the trademark, that of the battleship featured on the front of the matchbox ever since it was first produced in 1870. Despite a number of changes of ownership, HMS Devastation still appears on the front and the message from the name is a patriotic one. It does strike me (pun intended) it was a good idea not to use the name of the vessel for the product.

Findus – began when two Swedish chocolate producers united as Fruit Industries, none of which produced anything fishy or frozen.

Gloy – a glue name suggested by gloia the Greek for ‘glue’.

Harpic – was a product named from its inventor, Harry Pickup, who registered the Harpic Manufacturing Company in 1924.

Indesit – was a trade name developed as an acronym from the manufacturer, Industria Elettrodomestici Italia (the Italian Domestic Appliances Industry).

Jubilee – the name of the hose clip is often said to have been inspired by a jubilee when the product was launched and yet 8th February 1929, the launch date, is nowhere near any obvious jubilee and thus was probably named to suggest a prestigious occasion (one marked only by the appearance of a hose clip).

Kalamazoo – is a Birmingham firm which first used this as a product name when one of the owners brought back the loose-leafed binder from the USA with sole rights to producing this in Britain, the name of the company changed to Kalamazoo some time later in 1943.

Lion Brand – and a lesson to anyone when trying to market a product. I am often asked why there are so many pubs featuring oddly-coloured animals – the Red Lion is still among the commonest of pub names – and the answer was it is heraldic, the same as so many pub names. It made sense to use imagery when the written name was pointless as so many potential customers were illiterate. On the face of it using a lion as an emblem seems a reasonable idea, with different coloured lions showing the differing grades of paper. Yet it seems nobody bothered to point out to the owner, one John Dickinson, the illiterate would be unlikely to buy any writing paper.

Marmite – having written an article on this product some years ago I am fascinated by its history, although I do number among those who find the taste quite unpalatable. The name comes from the shape of the pot depicted on the label, this being a French vessel known as a marmite.

Nivea – is the feminine form of the Latin niveus or ‘snowy’. This points to colour and cooling properties of the cream, while also suggesting it keeps the skin of the user a similar colour.

Oxo – is beef extract, thus the ‘ox’ with the addition of the suffix ‘–o’ making it nicely symmetrical and an obvious product name.

Persil – while this is the French word for ‘parsley’ this is not the reason for the name, although it is the reason for a sprig of parsley being used as a trademark. The name comes from two ingredients in bleach and included in the original recipe, perborate and silicate.

Quaker Oats – the origin was never recorded but is said to have become obvious to American Henry D Seymour, a co-founder of the company, when he found a reference to the Quakers in a book. The attributes of both the oatmeal and the religious group – purity, honesty, and strength – were seen as similar.

Radox – originally not a bath product but one used solely in a foot bath and said to come from ‘radiated oxygen’, which the manufacturers claimed was one of the advantages of using it.

Sindy – a doll first marketed in the 1950s and chosen from a shortlist of four as the most popular after a street survey. In truth the public voted for Cindy on the original list but the makers saw they could never register a popular girl’s name as a trademark and so tweaked the spelling.

Toblerone – was originally made by the Swiss chocolate company Tobler. Italian is one of the four official languages of Switzerland and –one (which should rhyme with minestrone) means ‘big’.

Umbro – comes from the company’s founders, the Humphreys Brothers.

Vick – named after North Carolina chemist Dr Joshua Vick. However he did not create the menthol gel, that was a former employee of his who later became his brother-in-law Lunsford Richardson who originally wanted to call it Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve but changed his mind.

Wolseley – the car manufacturer employed the later founder of the Austin company, Herbert Austin who, until 1893, had been employed in Australia by the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company.

Xerox – is from xeros, the Greek word for ‘dry’ and described the process of copying which had previously used liquids.

Yorkie – produced by Rowntree Mackintosh, whose headquarters were in the city of York.

Zebrite – originally marketed as Zebra from 1890 until it became Zebrite in 1952. It was used to on the grate, changing it from dirty to clean, a ‘black and white’ concept mirrored by the wrapper. The change in name put greater emphasis on the ‘bright’ idea.

As always I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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