Do you ever stop to ponder how your favourite snacks got their names?
In some cases, it’s obvious. Cadbury’s, Hershey Bars and Reese’s are all named after their inventors or marketeers. The Double Decker has two distinct layers. The Curly Wurly is both curly and wurly. But does the Mars bar have planetary associations? Is there a feline lurking behind the Kit Kat? And what on earth are Snickers and Twix named after. Read on to find out more...
Slough is famous in Britain for its unappetising name and perceived dullness (it was the setting for the UK version of The Office). But this maligned town west of London also gave the world the Mars Bar. The treat was first manufactured here in 1932 by Forrest Mars, senior. And therein lies the source of the name. The Mars bar is nothing to do with the planet or the god, but is simply named after the Mars family who began marketing it almost a century ago.
The formulation of the Mars Bar differs around the world. The UK and most of the world enjoy a nougat-caramel-chocolate combo, while the US version included almonds. That bar is now sold under the name of Snickers Almond. Which is a confusing way to lead us on to…
Older generations in the UK are still a bit suspicious of the name ‘Snickers’. It was sold as ‘Marathon’ until 1990, when it was rebranded to ‘align’ with other nations. Many prefer the old name, even after all these years. We shouldn’t be so curmudgeonly. It’s a fun, playful name that just happens to sound a lot like ‘knickers’, inviting many a playground joke. Snickers was first marketed as such in 1930. It was named after a horse called Snickers, owned by the Mars family. How that horse got its name is lost to history.
Another long-lived favourite from Mars is the Milky Way bar. Like the Mars Bar, it goes by different names in different territories. The UK version was introduced in 1935 and comprises nougat and chocolate. The US version dates back to 1924, and includes caramel (it’s essentially what Europeans might call a Mars Bar). In a further sugary twist, an equivalent of the UK Milky Way can be purchased in America under the name ‘3 Musketeers’ (see below). Got all that? It’s name was adapted from a popular milkshake of the time, so - as with the Mars Bar - there is no direct astronomical connection. The UK variant is light enough to float in milk, a characteristic that’s been used in advertising to show its apparent ‘lightness’ as a snack.
The North American version of the Milky Way launched in 1932. Its unusual name obviously references the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas, but why? Originally, the bar came as three smaller chunks, each of a different flavour. Wartime shortages led to two of the flavours being dropped, and the three pieces became one solid edifice (which they really should have called ‘Bar-tanian’).
Mars, Milky Way, Galaxy… what is it about chocolate bars and astronomical objects? As we’ve seen, the first two names are not directly related to anything heavenly (other than the taste). Galaxy, however, was probably named with the astral in mind. The bar was launched in the UK in 1965 at the height of the Space Race as a direct competitor to Cadbury’s chocolate. The starry name would have been very modish, and slotted in nicely alongside Milky Way bars.
The popular British snack shares a birthyear with Milky Way, first hitting the shelves as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp in 1935. It was rebadged as Kit Kat two years later. The phrase ‘kit kat’ has been around for a long time. In the 18th century, it denoted a mutton pie, supposedly after a chef called Christopher Catt. The same period saw the establishment of the Kit-Cat club, a famous literary and political group, whose portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Rowntree’s of York must have liked the name enough to adopt and trademark it in 1911, before bringing out a line of boxed chocolates known as Kit Cats in 1920s. Those boxes never caught on, and the name was instead transferred to the 2- or 4-fingered bars from 1937.
Another graduate of Mars’s Slough development centre, the Twix bar began life in 1967 as a Raider bar. The name changed to Twix at different times in different territories, but no one seems sure what it means. One theory suggests that it’s a portmanteau of ‘twin’ and ‘mix’, or ‘two’ and ‘stix’, but it could just as easily lack any meaning and simply be a catchy-sounding name.
An unfamiliar snack to British readers, but a mainstay of the candy store in America - and one with a fascinating name story. This knobbly peanut-chocolate-caramel-nougat confection celebrates its centenary this year (2021). You might think it’s named after the famous baseball player Babe Ruth, who was just growing into his fame at the time of the bar’s launch. And you might be right. Or not. Because the etymology of this bar is somewhat intriguing. Manufacturer the Curtiss Candy Company always claimed that they named the bar after President Cleveland’s daughter Ruth. This would have been a decidedly weird choice of dedication, as Ruth died 17 years before the chocolate bar was first marketed, and not as a baby. More likely, the company wanted to ride on the popularity of sportsman Babe Ruth without paying him any royalties.
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