Today’s New York Times features an expose of brands with fictional or highly embellished histories–what Yale linguist Laurence R. Horn aptly calls “etymythologies.”
Among the culprits: Keds’ “sneakers,” Hershey’s Kisses and Cracker Jack.
Missing from the story is one of my favorite offenders, Jamba Juice. At one time, Jamba Juice asserted that its name was derived from an African word meaning “to celebrate.” The company published this specious claim on its Web site, raising the eyebrows of linguists who wanted to know which of the 1800 languages spoken in Africa was the original source. In Umbundu, “jamba” translates to “elephant.” In Swahili, it means “to fart.”
Further digging revealed that the name originated in a brainstorming session held by the company’s founders. The brand name’s “etymythology” has since been removed from their Web site.
The lesson for branders: Don’t attempt to revise your history. There are too many people on the Web with too much time on their hands, and your little fib will grow into an embarrassing anecdote amplified by the New York Times and hundreds of little bloggers like me.