The cookies were first sold in 1917. Back then, the scouts baked the cookies themselves and sold them door to door. By the 1920s, they were using a simple sugar cookie recipe, perhaps based on one published in a July 1922 issue of The American Girl magazine. In 1935, the words “Girl Scout Cookies” appeared on the boxes for the first time, and in 1936, the national organization began using commercial bakers. The rest is cookie-selling history.
While you may know your Tagalongs from your Do-si-dos, here are a few things you might not know about the names of Girl Scout cookies.
1. Cookies have different names, depending on who bakes them.
For a while, each Girl Scout council could choose its own baker, and at one point there were 29 different companies making the cookies. To streamline the process, that number went down to four in the late 1970s, and in the 1990s, it decreased even further to two: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers (a division of a company you might have heard of).
You'd think these companies would cooperate and call each cookie by the same name—and you would be wrong. Each company distributes to different areas of the country, each cookie recipe is slightly different, and, each, except for the Thin Mint, has a different name.
That coconutty, caramelly, chocolatey concoction known as the Samoa in the Bay Area is called a Caramel deLite just a stone's throw away in Sacramento. (Why deLite? Perhaps because it has five fewer calories than the Samoa, and one less gram of fat.) If you're in Nebraska, you're eating Peanut Butter Patties. A Windy City resident? You're munching on Tagalongs. Forth Worthians indulge on Peanut Butter Sandwiches while their Dallas neighbors do Do-si-dos. And in New Jersey, the south has Shortbreads while it's Trefoils in the north.
2. Thin Mints go by another name in Canada.
While the Girl Guides of Canada were established two years before the Girl Scouts, they began selling cookies later, in 1927. Past cookie varieties included vanilla crème, maple cream, and shortbread, but nowadays, the Canadian cookie selection is much more streamlined than the Girl Scouts'. In the spring they offer "classic chocolate and vanilla cookies," and in the fall, their version of Thin Mints: Chocolately Mint cookies.
3. Samoa the cookie is named for Samoa the island—maybe.
Samoas, second in sales only to the iconic Thin Mints, were added to the Little Brownie cookie line in 1975. While we know why it’s called the Caramel deLite in some places and Samoa in others, no one seems sure where the name Samoa comes from.
One popular theory is the coconut connection. Of the island Samoa's top exports, number eight is coconut oil while number 15 is coconuts, brazil nuts, and cashews.
A more tenuous idea is that the word Samoa kind of sounds like “some more,” as in, "Give me some more of those delicious coconut thingies." Of course s’more was already taken, so maybe the Girl Scouts and Little Brownie Bakers went with the next best thing.
4. Trefoil is a leafy metaphor for the Girl Scout promise.
A trefoil, in case you didn’t know, is a kind of three-leafed plant—hence the shape of the shortbread cookie with the same name. The word trefoil comes from the Latin trifolium, “three leaf.”
The trefoil is also the emblem of both the Girl Scouts of the U.S. and the Girl Guides of Canada. For the Girl Scouts, the three leaves stand for a three-fold promise: "to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout law." That’s one wholesome cookie.
5. Savannah Smiles is a creepy name for a cookie.
A rather less wholesome back story lies behind the Savannah Smiles cookie—or at least the name. The crisp lemon cookie shaped like a smile was introduced in 2012 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the very first Girl Scouts meeting, which was held in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia.
If the name Savannah Smiles sounds familiar, that's because it was a 1982 family-friendly movie about an unhappy little girl named Savannah who runs away from home, but in the end is happily reunited with her mother. However, the actress who played Savannah, Bridgette Andersen, didn't have such a happy ending; she died of an apparent drug overdose at age 21.
Or you might know Savannah Smiles as the name of a 2007 song by indie band The Stage Names. What was Savannah Smiles the song about? A porn star who went by the stage name of Savannah and committed suicide at 24. If that bums you out, call the cookies by the ABC Bakers' name: Lemonades.