The Strange Early Names of 11 Common Products

Andrew Burton, Getty Images
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Branding is everything. It’s why we refer to most tissues as Kleenex even though we might be picking up a box of Puffs, and why we call a duplicate of something a Xerox even if it hasn’t come out of that company's copy machines.

Those two products may have gotten their name right on the first try, but not all companies are so lucky. Take a look at 11 popular brands that started out with far less effective labels.

1. KOOL-AID // FRUIT SMACK

A mother serves Kool-Aid to her daughter
iStock.com/stephanie phillips

In the 20th century, Edwin Perkins owned a successful family mail-order business. As with the Tupperware and Avon models, Perkins enlisted regional sales representatives to peddle his products, which ranged from home goods to food flavorings. One popular item was Fruit Smack, a highly concentrated juice that came in 4-ounce corked bottles and could be mixed with a pitcher of water. Owing to shipping hassles—the glass bottle would sometimes break or leak—Perkins came up with a powdered version. With the change from liquid to solid came a name change: Kool-Ade was introduced in six flavors (raspberry, cherry, grape, lemon, orange, and root beer) in 1928. The current spelling was introduced in 1934.

2. WATER BED // PLEASURE PIT

A man relaxes on a waterbed
WaterbedOutlet, YouTube

It’s easy to understand how a more luxurious bed was conceived at the height of the sexual revolution in the 1960s. San Francisco State University graduate student Charlie Hall created the water bed—a fluid-filled membrane that replaced a foam mattress—in a design class in 1968. Contrary to popular assumption, though, Hall wasn’t much of a hippie. He just wanted to make a more comfortable bed. The name he chose, however, was tawdry. Hall called it the "Pleasure Pit," but the subsequent knock-offs came to be known as "water beds." Even the more innocuous name was still paired with lurid advertising. One salesman told clients that the gyrating motion of the bed “creates the impression a third, warm body is participating.”

3. CHEERIOS // CHEERIOATS

A bowl of Cheerios sits on a table
iStock.com/RonOrmanJr

This breakfast table staple was introduced in 1941, after food science innovator Lester Borchardt developed a way to puff up oats into the familiar “O” shape. For the first four years, the cereal was called Cheerioats to emphasize its whole-grain origins, and manufacturer General Mills even shipped the toasted oats to servicemen using the slogan “He’s feeling his CheeriOats.” But Quaker Oats wasn’t having it. They believed they had the corner on “oats” in the processed-food market. Rather than engage in a lengthy legal struggle, General Mills shortened the name to Cheerios in 1945.

4. VASELINE // WONDER JELLY

A jar of Vaseline sits unopened
iStock.com/urbanbuzz

While visiting Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, chemist Robert Chesebrough became intrigued by the fact that the petroleum oil drillers there smeared the jelly-like residue of the drilling process over their burned or irritated skin. Sensing he had the next great home care product, he spent years developing a patented purification process to sell the petroleum goop commercially. In 1870, the product debuted under the name Wonder Jelly. Chesebrough travelled around New York demonstrating the product’s effectiveness by burning his skin with an open flame or acid and then soothing it with his concoction. While this undoubtedly made a name for Chesebrough, it may not have had the same effect on his creation. He changed the name to Vaseline (reportedly combining the German word for water, wasser, and the Greek word for oil, oleon), and registered it in 1872.

5. PAC-MAN // PUCK-MAN

A 'Pac-Man' video game screen is shown
iStock.com/ilbusca

At the height of coin-operated arcade machine mania in 1980, Japanese video game manufacturer Namco dropped a bombshell release. Their Pac-Man, which let players control a sentient yellow circle that gobbled up power pellets and ghosts, was a national phenomenon. But in Japan, it was known by another name: Creator Toru Iwatani dubbed the game Puckman (or Puck-Man). Accounts vary as to why he chose this name, but it may have had something to do with his protagonist's puck-shaped appearance, or a reference to the Japanese word paku, meaning "chomp." When Namco prepared the game for an American release, however, marketers worried that some teenagers might change the P in Puck-Man to an F. They wisely opted for Pac-Man instead.

6. Q-TIPS // BABY GAYS

Q-Tips sit in a pile
iStock.com/Photology1971

After seeing his wife create a makeshift cotton swab by wrapping cotton balls around toothpicks to use on their baby, Leo Gerstenzang decided to mass-produce sterilized swabs. He formed the Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company in 1923 and named his leading product Baby Gays, presumably for the joy they would bring to children who weren’t being treated like pin cushions by toothpick-wielding mothers. In 1926, Gerstenzang altered the name to Q-Tips Baby Gays, and eventually just Q-Tips. The Q stands for quality.

7. BIG MAC // ARISTOCRAT

A Big Mac sits next to an order of McDonald's fries
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

The signature burger at McDonald’s was concocted by local franchisee Jim Delligatti, who arranged the two beef patties drenched in a secret sauce in Pittsburgh in 1967. While Delligatti developed a tasty burger, the early names for it—the Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon Burger—proved unpopular among corporate brass. An advertising executive named Esther Rose came up with “Big Mac” on the way to a product meeting; a colleague rejected it, believing the menu’s McDouble meant they couldn’t use another “Mac” burger product, but was overruled. The Big Mac rolled out nationally in 1968. It’s remained a fixture of their menu ever since. (Rose, incidentally, received no royalties for naming the burger, but the company did give her a nice plaque.)

8. COTTON CANDY // FAIRY FLOSS

Three people hold up cotton candy in front of their faces
iStock.com/diatrezor

The staple of carnivals everywhere, sugar-saturated cotton candy was developed by the unlikeliest of creators—a dentist. William Morrison conspired with confectioner John C. Wharton to develop and patent an electronic machine that spun the fiber-textured candy in 1897. (Melted sugar is forced through tiny holes using centrifugal force, solidifying into narrow strands.) Morrison and Wharton shopped their confection at world fairs under the name “fairy floss.” It was another somewhat irresponsible dentist, Josef Lascaux, who gave it the name cotton candy in the 1920s (although it reportedly retains the "fairy" moniker in Australia).

9. EGGO WAFFLES // FROFFLES

Boxes of Eggo Waffles are seen in a grocery store
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

The Dorsa brothers—Frank, Anthony, and Sam—were an enterprising bunch. After coming up with a popular mayonnaise recipe in 1932—which they dubbed Eggo Mayonnaise after their egg-heavy ingredient list—the siblings turned their attention to waffle batter. When that became prohibitive to ship due to fear of spoilage, they created a dry mix, then decided to capitalize on the burgeoning frozen-food market by offering pre-cooked waffles they called Froffles (frozen waffles) beginning in 1953. The name didn’t stick, though: Consumers preferred the Eggo label, and so the brothers changed the name in 1955. In 1972, new Eggo owners Kellogg cemented the brand with the “Leggo my Eggo” ad campaign. “Unhand my Froffles” didn’t have the same ring to it.

10. FRISBEE // PLUTO PLATTER

A man throws a Frisbee at the camera
iStock.com/eyecrave

When the Wham-O novelty toy company introduced a flying plastic disc in the 1950s intended for tossing, it was dubbed the Pluto Platter in order to capitalize on the nation’s flying saucer hysteria. The name came from inventor Walter Frederick Morrison, who originally considered calling it the Whirlo-Way and the Flyin-Saucer. Within months, Wham-O decided to rename it the Frisbee, though there’s some debate over what exactly inspired the new title. One story has students of a New England college tossing pie tins around from the Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut; Wham-O president Richard Knerr said the name came from a comic strip called "Mr. Frisbie."

Either way, Morrison—who reaped royalties from Frisbee sales—thought the new moniker was a terrible choice. “I thought it was insane,” he told The New York Times in 2007.

11. SCRABBLE // CRISS CROSS WORDS

Scrabble tiles are scattered across the board
iStock.com/Juanmonino

The ubiquitous word game was invented by Alfred Mosher Butts, who was out of work during the Great Depression in 1933 and used his copious free time to work on his letter tiles. Through the product’s lengthy developmental stage in the 1930s and 1940s, Butts referred to it as Lexiko, It, and Criss Cross Words. It wasn’t until Butts teamed up with entrepreneur James Brunot that the two came up with the name Scrabble, which means to collect or hold on to something. They trademarked the title in 1948. By the early 1950s, the game was so popular that Butts and Brunot couldn't meet the demand even though they were producing 6000 sets a week.

16 Jaw-Dropping Facts About Cirque du Soleil

Hannah Peters, Getty Images
Hannah Peters, Getty Images

Since its founding in 1984, the contemporary circus Cirque du Soleil has performed for more than 180 million people in 450 cities on every continent but Antarctica. In other words: There’s probably a Cirque show near you right now … or there will be soon.

For the uninitiated, Cirque du Soleil—which celebrates its 35th anniversary in July 2019—features a mix of circus acts, street performance, unparalleled acrobatic feats and the avant-garde. And no matter the show’s theme, technology always plays a role—the Montreal-based company, now one of the largest live theatrical companies in business, consistently ups its game with state-of-the-art stages, special effects and world-class stunts. Read on to learn even more jaw-dropping facts about Cirque du Soleil.

  1. Cirque du Soleil began as a troupe of 20 street performers.

Cirque du Soleil has its roots in Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (the Baie-Saint-Paul Stiltwalkers), a group that performed acts like fire-breathing and juggling on the streets of Baie-Saint-Paul in Quebec, Canada, in the early 1980s. One of the troupe's members was Guy Laliberté, who eschewed a college education to join the group; in 1984, he presented a proposal to the Canadian government for a company of performers that would tour across the country to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada. Laliberté landed a $1 million contract to make the proposal a reality, which led to the incorporation of the group as a non-profit under the name Cirque du Soleil.

  1. The name Cirque du Soleil means "Circus of the Sun."

"When I need to take time to reenergize, I go somewhere by the ocean to sit back and watch the sunsets. That is where the idea of 'Soleil' came from, on a beach in Hawaii, and because the Sun is the symbol of youth and energy," Laliberté explained to Fortune in 2011.

  1. Las Vegas has six permanent Cirque du Soleil shows.

Cirque du Soleil's first show had 10 acts and hit 15 cities in Quebec. Now, there are 23 Cirque du Soleil shows worldwide, including six permanent shows in Las Vegas and 12 that are on tour. Though it's hard to determine the most popular show, Cirque du Soleil calls Alegría—which ran from 1994 to 2013 before being "reinterpreted in a renewed version" in 2019—one of its “most beloved shows,” with 6600 performances for more than 14 million audience members around the world. That’s a lot of tickets.

  1. Mystère is the longest-running Cirque du Soleil show.

Cirque’s first permanent show in Las Vegas, Mystère has also been on stage the longest of all Cirque productions. This lighthearted, family-friendly show opened in 1993 at Treasure Island and features a classic Cirque du Soleil mix of gymnastics and trapeze.

  1. Cirque du Soleil shows are incredibly expensive to produce.

For example, —which premiered in 2005—cost at least $165 million to create, making it one of the most expensive theatrical productions in history (to compare, the Spider-Man musical, Broadway’s most expensive show, had cost estimates about half that). Much of the budget was for technical feats, including a battle scene featuring acrobats on wires fighting vertically. Sadly, it was during the battle sequence that aerialist Sarah Guillot-Guyard died in 2013. It was Cirque du Soleil’s first onstage fatality.

  1. There’s even a Cirque du Soleil show on ice.

Crystal, Cirque’s “first experience on ice,” premiered in December 2017 in Quebec City and Montreal. It’s basically the choreographed stunts you’d expect from Cirque du Soleil but everybody’s on skates.

  1. Many Cirque du Soleil casts include former Olympians.

Cirque du Soleil employs 1300 performers from 50 different countries, and Cirque says about 40 percent of its artists come from disciplines like rhythmic gymnastics and diving. To that end, in 2016, Cirque had 22 Olympians (including two medalists) on stage in a variety of roles, from high-flying trampoline acts to synchronized swimmers. That’s not to mention the many performers who are recruited from national gymnastics teams.

  1. Cirque du Soleil cast members train extensively.

Before being cast in a specific show, prospective performers attend artistic and acrobatic training at Cirque du Soleil’s international headquarters in Montreal. Depending on the show and the role, cast members then do daily training and warm-ups, sometimes lasting more than 90 minutes, along with regular rehearsals. The daily work-outs can include weight lifting, stretching, handstands, pull-ups, sit-ups, and rope work.

  1. The kitchens on Cirque du Soleil tours use up to 3000 pounds of food a week.

Traveling Cirque shows have a team of around five chefs who pump out meals for cast and crew each day. Menus change daily and incorporate local specialties in whatever city the show lands (think: bison in Denver; étouffée in Louisiana). In a 2017 interview, Cirque kitchen manager Paola Muller said that the kitchen can run through 2000 to 3000 pounds of food a week. A 2016 Thrillist article notes that 90 to 100 pounds of protein are served at each meal, and there’s a salad bar with 22 ingredients.

  1. Cirque du Soleil takes safety seriously—but the stunts are still dangerous.

Cirque du Soleil cast members pull off dangerous stunts on the regular. But even with stringent safety systems in place (some performers have called them “annoying”), injuries and accidents happen. According to Vanity Fair there were 53 injuries at the permanent Las Vegas shows in 2012, and in 2018, an aerialist was killed in Florida during a performance of Volta.

  1. Princess Diana was an early fan of Cirque du Soleil.

She took Princes Harry and William to an early performance by the group in 1990. In early 2019, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, attended a Cirque du Soleil charity performance; the duchess wore one of Diana's bracelets and a dress inspired by one of her late mother-in-law's looks.

  1. Cirque du Soleil has an outreach program based on the “social circus.”

Established in 1995, Cirque du Monde supports the philosophy that circus arts can be used as interventions for at-risk youth, creating confidence and community for kids who need it. This idea is referred to as “the social circus”; this and other global citizen campaigns have reached 100,000 kids in 50 countries.

  1. Some costume pieces in Cirque du Soleil's O are made out of shower curtains.

The costumes for all Cirque shows are unique in that they have to be not only stunning but also athletically practical and safe. Cirque’s Montreal Costume Workshop employs 300 full-time artisans, including shoemakers, milliners, and textile designers.

Each costume’s evolution requires a lot of ingenuity—and trial and error. Take, for instance, Cirque’s water show, O, in Las Vegas. Some costume pieces are made out of shower curtains, pipe cleaners, or bits of foam to make them float in the water. The wardrobe staff here does 60 loads of laundry a night to keep the 4800 costumes and accessories clean, and there’s a totally separate room dedicated to drying, complete with specialized heaters.

  1. Luzia is the first Cirque show in Spanish.

Although Cirque du Soleil shows don’t regularly rely on speaking parts (that’s what the mimes are for!), Luzia is the first show to be entirely en Español. Luzia’s title combines two Spanish words—luz for “light” and lluvia for “rain”—and features a state-of-the-art rain curtain and revolving stage.

  1. You can experience Cirque du Soleil in VR.

A natural extension of the Cirque experience? Virtual reality. In 2018, MK2, a Paris-based company specializing in VR cinemas, acquired distribution rights to four Cirque shows, co-produced by Canada’s Felix & Paul. Now, you can experience moments from , Kurios, Luzia, and O on Google Daydream, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and more.

  1. Cirque du Soleil's The Beatles LOVE has been onstage longer than the Beatles.

Cirque’s Beatles show, LOVE, has been on stage since 2006. The Beatles were together for around a decade, from 1960 (or '62, if you're going by when Ringo Starr joined, and when they released their first single) to 1970. LOVE remains a stalwart of the Cirque canon, regularly selling about 75 to 90 percent theater capacity, and is at the top of many Vegas “must dos.”

The True Story Behind Gentleman Jack: 10 Facts About Anne Lister

Suranne Jones stars as Anne Lister in HBO's Gentleman Jack.
Suranne Jones stars as Anne Lister in HBO's Gentleman Jack.
Jay Brooks, HBO

Anne Lister was one of the 19th century's most intriguing characters: she was a businesswoman, a mountaineer, a world traveler, and a science enthusiast. But it’s her love life that she’s mainly remembered for today. Often described as the “first modern lesbian,” Lister had a number of same-sex relationships, as chronicled in her gripping, 26-volume diary. Due in part to her rather masculine fashion sense, Lister was nicknamed “Gentleman Jack.” Which also happens to be the title of a new HBO series based on her life, starring the brilliant Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster, Coronation Street). Here are 10 things you should know about Anne Lister.

1. Anne Lister used her love of books as a compatibility test.

“I love and only love the fairer sex, and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs,” Lister wrote in her diary in 1820. Before she eventually settled down with heiress Ann Walker, Lister won the hearts of numerous other women. Courting them wasn’t always easy, but Lister had her methods. While flirting, she used to gauge the other party’s interest by mentioning books or plays that dealt with LGBTQ issues—like the writings of Juvenal, a Roman poet who had some pretty strong opinions about homosexuality. By watching the listener’s reaction, Lister could often predict if her advances would be successful.

2. Traditionally “feminine” clothing just wasn’t Lister’s style.

Lister's era was one full of whalebone corsets and restrictive petticoats, yet her personal style emphasized function over form. Because she moved at a brisk pace and enjoyed long walks through the countryside (she reportedly walked 25 miles in a single outing on at least one occasion), she tended to wear thick, leather boots, which were generally deemed unladylike. She further defied convention by sporting lots and lots of black. Even though it was seen as a masculine color at the time, Lister filled her wardrobe with black bodices and long coats. She felt that the dark garments complimented her wiry physique, and in 1817, Lister—then 26 years old—declared, “I have entered upon my plan of always wearing black.”

3. She ran her family's estate for more than a decade.

Growing up, Lister would frequently visit Shibden Hall, the brick-and-timber mansion that was the home of her aunt and uncle, who had no children of his own. Lister moved into the estate in 1815, after the untimely deaths of all four of her brothers. When her uncle James passed away in 1826, the job of managing Shibden Hall (and its surrounding 400 acres) fell to Lister. She handled its finances, oversaw its coal deposits and quarries, profited off of the onsite canals and timber, and collected rent from its tenants right up until her death in 1840.

4. As an anatomy student, Lister once dissected a human head.

On one of her extended trips to Paris, Lister was often seen attending scientific lectures, where she deepened her knowledge of everything from zoology to mineralogy. According to Angela Steidele’s 2018 book, The Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist, the eager pupil cut open a deceased rabbit, a severed human hand, a disembodied ear, and “a woman’s head.” “It is not known where the head came from,” Steidele wrote. “Anne, who had kissed so many women, took on the dissection of the face. She preserved the bits in rectified spirits and kept them in a cabinet she obtained especially, which also contained a skeleton and several skulls."

5. She was an accomplished mountaineer.

In 1830, Lister earned the distinction of becoming the first woman to ascend Mount Perdu, the third highest mountain in the Pyrenees Range. (Its peak is 11,007 feet above sea level.) Eight years later, she became the first amateur climber to ever scale the Vignemale, an almost equally tall summit in the same range.

6. She and Ann Walker married in 1834 in what is often cited as the first lesbian wedding in recorded British history.


Portrait by Joshua Horner - GLBTQ Encyclopedia, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On Easter Sunday, 1834, Lister married Ann Walker in what is often cited as the first lesbian wedding in recorded British history.

The women had been acquaintances for several years. Walker was 12 years younger than Lister and, by all accounts, a whole lot shyer. In 1834, she finally accepted Lister’s persistent proposals to join her in a union that would be “the same as a marriage” (as Walker described it).

After selecting a pair of rings, they took communion together on Easter Sunday, 1834, at the Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate in York. So far as Lister and Walker were concerned, the shared Easter service was their stand-in wedding ceremony. They never mentioned this to the church, and their marriage went unrecognized in the eyes of the law. But if you visit the house of worship today, you’ll find a rainbow-ringed plaque that reads, “Anne Lister 1791-1840 of Shibden Hall, Halifax Lesbian and Diarist; took sacrament here to seal her union with Ann Walker [on] Easter 1834.”

7. an angry mob once burned effigies of lister and walker .

Lister didn't make a lot of friends among her tenants. She used to pressure them into voting Tory and refused to rent land to people who didn’t share her political beliefs. Her notoriety only increased after she began her new domestic life with Walker. Lister took an active role in managing her significant other’s estate, which was located near Shibden Hall. Soon, a dispute broke out over a drinking well on Walker’s land. Although residents of the broader community depended on that well, Lister considered it family property. So to assert her control over the situation, she had a barrel of tar dumped into the water—making it unfit for consumption. In retaliation, effigies of both Lister and Walker were burned. (Ultimately, a magistrate ruled that the water belonged to the public, and that Lister’s actions were unjustified.)

8. Lister died while vacationing in the country of Georgia.

Throughout her life, Lister maintained a passion for traveling. In 1840, Lister and Walker toured eastern Europe. That autumn, the couple was out exploring present-day Georgia (the country) when Lister came down with a horrible fever, possibly as the result of a tick bite. [PDF] Lister died on September 22, 1840; she was only 49 years old. Walker brought Lister's remains back to England, where they were buried at Halifax Minster.

9. Altogether, Lister wrote more than 7000 pages of diary entries.

Lister left behind a 26-volume diary encompassing a grand total of 7722 pages and roughly 5 million words. She started documenting her fascinating life in 1806, when she was just 15 years old. Around one-sixth of the preserved pages were transcribed in code. Those cryptic passages included some vivid descriptions of Lister’s sex life.

10. Some of those diary entries had to be decoded—twice!

The code Lister used was an odd, punctuation-free mixture of ancient Greek letters and algebraic signs. Toward the end of the 19th century, John Lister, one of her surviving relatives, successfully cracked the code with the help of his friend, Arthur Burrell. But once he figured out what the documents actually said, John hid them away, lest they attract a scandal. When Lister’s journals were subsequently rediscovered, a writer by the name of Helena Whitbread managed to unravel the code again in the 1980s. Whitbread then published decoded editions of the diaries, and the rest is history.

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