Sunday, 30 March 2014


Last autumn I looked at the origins of some of the better known brand names. Having had to shop for a relative over the last few months I have seen a number of names which I would never have noticed had I only been hunter-gathering for myself. Hence I decided to revisit the subject and look at another batch of well-known brand names and just what inspired them.

Agfa – photographic products such as Agfa film may be a thing of the past in the digital age, but having to produce my own photographs the subject remains relevant to me. This is an acronym - Akteingesellschaft fur Anilinfabrikation – which I am reliably informed translates to “Limited company for dye manufacture”.

Brylcreem – is quite easy to see as a combination of ‘brilliantine’ and ‘cream’. I do not recall a day when my father did not use this product, yet there must have been many for the product was not marketed until 1928, when my father was already 9 years old, was originally called ‘Elite’ and at first only available to barbers.

Colibri – as a former smoker I recognised the name of the cigarette lighter. The firm named Colibri was founded by Julius Lowenthal in 1927, he chose the name as the name sounds foreign and thus exotic (car manufacturers do the same). The name is also used for a hummingbird, one sacred to the Taino Indians of the Caribbean.

Dorothy Perkins – I was quite surprised to find there was no such woman, at least not one who gave her name to the clothing stores. The name was suggested by the wife of one of the co-founders after she saw the classic English cottage which was home to the first of the chain of shops. She thought the premises would ideally suit a rambling rose being grown around the outside and it was this rose which was called Dorothy Perkins.

Ex-Lax – developed by a New York scientist of Hungarian extraction, it was first marketed as Bo-Bo. The story goes than the scientist was reading a newspaper, which reported there had been an ex-lex in his native Hungary – this a Latin term literally translating to ‘outside the law’ and just a minor tweak away from the present name. Just why he thought this would make a good name for a laxative is far from clear.

Fanta – developed during the years of the Second World War, it implies ‘fantasy’ as it required such an imagination to create a desirable drink from the limited materials available.

Gaumont – many towns and cities had a Gaumont cinema, these taking the name of the inventor of the motion picture, one Leon Ernest Gaumont.

Hovis – the famous ‘brown bread’ was patented in 1887 by Staffordshire miller Richard Smith as Smith’s Patent Brown Bread. Three years later he opened a competition to find a better name for his loaf. It was won by one Herbert Grime, who suggested a contraction of the Latin ‘hominis vis’ or ‘the strength of man’.

Izal – said to be an anagram of Liza, a sister of Mr J H Worrall who first produced this disinfectant.

Jaguar – chosen at random by the founder, William Lyons, from a long list of speedy and/or powerful animals which he thought would be suitable for a car.

Kenwood – a name synonymous with electric food mixers and named after the found of the company, Ken Wood.

Lucozade – it is based on glucose, hence the first part, and suffixed by the typical fizzy drink syllable –ade.

Mars – nothing to do with the planet or the Roman god, this was named after its founder, Forrest Mars.

Nabisco – derived from the original name of the firm, the National Biscuit Company.

Odeon – from the Greek oideion or ‘theatre’.

PG Tips – the end is easily seen as it is the tips of the tea leaves which produce the flavour of the tea. Originally it was marketed as Pre-Gestee, suggesting it was a good drink before food and used as an aid to digestion. When shopkeepers and delivery men began shortening it to PG the company soon adopted the name.

Quink – a contracted form of ‘quick drying ink’

Ribena – from the Latin name for the blackcurrant Ribes nigrum, from which Ribena is made.

Schweppes – jeweller Jacob Schweppe came up with this man-made mineral water having already made his money as a jeweller.

Teflon – this non-stick miracle, or so it seemed when it was first marketed, is a more manageable version of the substance polytetrafluoroethylene.

Uhu – an adhesive developed in the around the Black Forest in Germany. The forest is the ideal habitat for the eagle owl or, as it is known in Germany, the uhu.

Velcro – an amalgamation of the French velours ‘velvet’ and croche ‘hooked’

Wimpy – named after the hamburger-loving character in the Popeye cartoons, his full name being J Wellington Wimpy.

Xylonite – a combination of the Green xulon ‘wood’ and the common suffix ‘ite’, an excellent reflection of a company producing cellulose nitrate.

Yale – named after the American locksmith Linus Yale.

Zubes – a throat lozenge which may have been named from the Russian zub meaning ‘tooth’.

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