How Some Sugary Treats Got Their Names

We reach for them when we need a sugar fix, but how well do we know the stories behind our favorite ice creams, cookies, and snack cakes?

Mental Floss takes a look at the names behind some of our guilty pleasures.

1. Häagen-Dazs
What does the upscale ice cream company’s name mean? Nothing! Polish American entrepreneur Reuben Mattus started making ice cream in New York during the 1920s, and by 1960 he was ready to launch a premium brand. Mattus thought that people would associate a Danish-sounding name with Denmark’s renowned dairies, so he made up the name Häagen-Dazs and slapped a drawing of Denmark on the ice cream’s carton.

2. Little Debbie
Yes, there’s a real little girl behind the irresistible line of snack cakes. When McKee Foods needed a name for its new snack cake business in 1960, founder O.D. McKee got a great suggestion from packaging supplier Bob Mosher: why not name the cakes after a family member? McKee decided to name the brand after his four-year-old granddaughter Debbie. The brand’s smiling logo even comes from a photo of the original little Debbie wearing her favorite straw hat.

3. Fig Newtons
The actual inventor of the Fig Newton is hard to pin down. Some sources credit baker Charles Roser, while others give James Henry Mitchell the nod for inventing a machine that could fill a cookie with jam. What’s less controversial, though, is that the Kennedy Biscuit Company of Massachusetts began mass-producing the first Fig Newtons in 1891. The company liked to name its sweets after towns in the Boston area, so the new cookie got its name from Newton, MA.

4. Oreos
Nobody knows exactly where the Oreo name originated, but that doesn’t stop people from speculating. Some guess that the name comes from the “re” cream being nestled between two “O”-shaped chocolate cookies. Others credit the Greek word oros, which means “small mound or hill.” Still others credit the French word for gold, or, because the cookie’s original packaging was gold. One thing everyone agrees on: they are terrific with milk.

Photos by Mental Floss.

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