A highly recognizable name can be a valuable asset for many popular brands, but in the face of a public relations disaster or major changes in consumer preferences, a high-profile brand name can quickly turn into a liability.
Some consumers in the U.S. have long argued that some popular brand names perpetuate racial stereotypes, particularly about black and Native American people. Such criticism went largely ignored until last year, when the “woke” social justice movement reached its zenith following George Floyd’s death and subsequent civil unrest across the nation.
These six well-known brands changed their names in the past year to shed alleged racist or offensive historical connotations in the wake of pressure from “woke” activists.
The football team announced in July, 2020 that it would “undergo a thorough review” of their name after decades of accusations. Activists claimed that the name “Redskins” perpetuated racist stereotypes about Native Americans. The decision to finally review the name came after FedEx and other sponsors urged the team to change it.
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Dan Snyder, the team’s owner, noted the decision to adopt a new name came in light of “recent events around our country,” referring to the protests and riots that took place following George Floyd’s death.
The team ultimately decided to call itself the “Washington Football Team” until a permanent name is chosen, and the team also dropped its Native American mascot prior to the 2020 season.
After the Redskins’ rebranding, other sports teams came under scrutiny for names and mascots considered offensive. The baseball team Cleveland Indians, for example, said in December 2020 that they plan to drop the word “Indians” from their team name. (RELATED: The Woke Revolution Came For Sports, And Fans Are Not Happy At All)
The pancake mix brand known for its distinctive syrup bottles got a makeover last June when Quaker Oats, the company that owns “Aunt Jemima,” announced in June it would change the brand’s name. The logo of a black woman dressed as a minstrel character was also removed from Aunt Jemima products.
Quaker Oats spokesperson Kristin Kroepfl said in June of 2020 that renaming the brand and removing the image were part of the company’s efforts “to make progress toward racial equality.”
The brand was ultimately renamed to “Pearl Milling Company” in February.
Relatives of the two women who portrayed Aunt Jemima in the 1920s and 1930s had complained that renaming the brand would erase the character’s history.
The instant rice brand’s name was put on the chopping block the same day as Aunt Jemima, after its parent company Mars announced in June 2020 that it would “evolve” the brand. “Uncle Ben’s” references a black farmer and uses the title “Uncle” instead of “Mr.” as the former was often used by white southerners to refer to older blacks.
Mars stated in a press release that “now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand,” and called on consumers and companies to “make a collective effort” to combat systemic racism.
The company later announced in September of 2020 that Uncle Ben’s will officially change its name to “Ben’s Original” and will drop its logo of an older black man, which some called a racial stereotype. The new packaging began appearing on store shelves in 2021.
The hit country group announced last June they had changed their name to “Lady A” and dropped the word “Antebellum” due to its ties to slavery. Historians use the term when referring to the years preceding the Civil War, especially in the South.
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“We are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this [word] referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery,” the group said in a statement.
The musical trio said they had chosen the name as a reminder of the southern music that influenced their musical style. But the group ultimately decided to change their name to Lady A, a nickname already used by some fans, after “personal reflection” and conversations with their “closest black friends and colleagues.” (RELATED: Even Birds Aren’t Safe From The Woke Name-Changing Brigade)
They were sued by a black blues musician who said she had been using the name Lady A for decades.
The country music band announced in June of 2020 that they had changed their name to “The Chicks,” following in the footsteps of Lady Antebellum’s name change. The word “dixie” has long been associated with the Confederacy, and the band said they changed their name after an increase in discussions regarding racism.
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“We wanted to change it years and years and years ago,” band member Natalie Maines during an interview with The New York Times last July. “I just wanted to separate myself from people that wave that Dixie flag.”
The band made no formal announcement but its social media accounts and website were changed to reflect the new name. The band had also reached out to another band in New Zealand already existing with the name “The Chicks.”
A number of other brands with the word “dixie” similarly rebranded amid last summer’s racial justice protests. The Dixie Brewing Company, the oldest brewery in New Orleans, announced in November of 2020 that it was changing its name to the Faubourg Brewing Company in tribute to the “diverse neighbourhoods of New Orleans.”
The ice cream brand got a makeover when its parent company, Dreyer’s, announced in June of 2020 that it was changing the product’s brand name and marketing, The New York Times reported. The term “eskimo” is used to describe native peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of the U.S. and Canada, though activists have claimed in recent years that the term perpetuates racist stereotypes.
They’re now calling it Edy’s Pie, in honor of one of the company’s founders, Joseph Edy. https://t.co/4Vm0AAuuTI
— Kim Severson (@kimseverson) October 5, 2020
“We are committed to being a part of the solution on racial equality, and recognize the term is inappropriate,” Dreyer’s marketing head Elizabell Marquez told The Times in a statement.
The chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bar was rebranded to Edy’s Pie beginning early this year, a tribute to the company’s co-founder Joseph Edy. The brand’s logo featuring a young, dark-haired Inuit boy wearing mittens and a parka was also removed.