4 Famous Names We Only Know Because They Were Stolen
If your name’s Chris, and someone else is also Chris, that’s not a problem. If your name’s Chris Smith, and someone else is also Chris Smith, that’s not a problem either. But sometimes, we formally say a name belongs to just one entity, which is why if you try getting the username “ChrisSmith” anywhere, you’ll see that someone’s already got it. They beat you to it, fair and square.
Problem is, sometimes, the eventual owner of the name may well not be whoever had it first.
Goodyear Tires Isn’t Charles Goodyear’s
Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber. Liquid latex comes dripping out of the rubber tree, but Goodyear figured out how to make it into a strong material that won’t go all melty on you. His method of heating rubber led to the rubber tires we all know and love, as well as to latex condoms, which he invented. His rubber now rules the world. You’ll know that if you ever see his name on an airship run by the firm Goodyear Tires, an airship that would look quite terrifying if not for the cheerful Goodyear floors and logo.
Side note: There are no more Goodyear blimps, only airships. The difference is rigidity. Also, all this talk of “rigidity” and “firm” and “things going melty” is probably why Goodyear’s mind went so quickly to condoms.
But Goodyear Tires (or the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, to use its full name) was never Charles Goodyear’s outfit. They just named themselves after him. Goodyear the company is hugely successful, worth many billions, but Charles Goodyear died poor, having spent his whole life failing at business and struggling to protect his patents.
Goodyear Tires wasn’t necessarily trying to fool anyone by naming themselves after Charles, who’d been dead 40 years when the company began. They were just honoring him with the name (or capitalizing on his post-death legacy, whatever). But now, another century or so later, plenty of people assume it’s the company that Charles Goodyear left behind. Given enough time, we’ll probably also have people assuming Nikola Tesla ended his life a wealthy man, as he founded Tesla, the trillion-dollar manufacturer of mobile ignition systems.
There Used to Be Another Continent Called Australia
Long before Europeans ventured far south, they had some inkling of a giant landmass down there. The world was shaped something like a ball, and there was a whole lot of land in the half they were on, so there was surely some undiscovered land on the other end (which they called the “bottom end,” since it was the end they weren’t on). They called this unknown land that balanced things out “Terra Australis.” The first maps theorizing about Australis go all the way back to 5th-century Rome.
In the 18th century, James Cook made some detailed voyages around a sixth continent, in the southern hemisphere. However, he realized this wasn’t the theorized Australia. It wasn’t big enough or south enough. He dubbed the land New Holland, and he sailed further in search of continent number seven. In 1820, explorers (either Russian ones or British ones; both claimed to be first) caught sight of this long-sought Australian continent for the first time. In the next few years, people would get even closer.
But then New Holland said, “Hey, we’re Australia now.” They started calling themselves Australia, and Britain wrote that name into law. The true southern continent? No one could call it Australia anymore, so it didn’t have a name at all. In time, they went with Antarctica (a name long used in astronomy), which won out over alternative names like Ultima and Antipodea. “Australia” belongs strictly to a different, populated continent. This theft contributes to the belief that that place was founded by criminals.
The Sad Fate of the Original Burger King
Burger King isn’t the most inspired of names for a burger restaurant. One California company called their restaurants Insta-Burger King, and a Florida company bought it, renamed it to Burger King and expanded it to the chain we know today, but you might not be surprised to learn that some place somewhere adopted that name earlier. The only issue for the eventual megachain Burger King was that one of these predecessors got a trademark on the name.
Gene and Betty Hoots in Mattoon, Illinois, ran an ice cream shop called Frigid Queen, and they opened a burger place behind it called Burger King in 1957. They got a state trademark on the name well before the national chain came to Illinois. Then when the bigger Burger King did come to the state, the Hoots sued.
Obviously, they didn’t succeed in getting sole rights over the name Burger King. In fact, the competing chain had a trademark of its own by this time, a federal trademark, which trumped the state trademark. However, the judge in this suit ruled that the chain Burger King is not allowed to use its name — in Mattoon, Illinois. The Hoots, meanwhile, aren’t allowed to expand their business outside Mattoon. Without that restriction, we are 100-percent sure the Hoots would have conquered the globe by now.
There’s Real Budweiser Beer Out There, and It’s Not Made by Anheuser-Busch
Anheuser-Busch started as an American company — a company founded by German-Americans, but still an undeniably American company. After its first couple decades of brewing, Adolphus Busch chose a name for his pale lager, and he went with Budweiser, since that was the name of an existing beer in Europe. It referred to beer from Budwies, a city in the place known as Czechoslovakia. The city’s now officially called České Budějovice, but its German name is still Budweis, as it has been for the past 800 years.
If you find yourself in the Czech Republic today, or Slovakia, or Austria, and you order a Budweiser in a bar, they’ll pour you out some beer from Budweis, made by the brewer Budvar. In most of the world, however, Budweiser means an American-style beer. The town of Budweis aren't huge fans of this. Nor are they fans of Anheuser-Busch buying a brewery in Budweis itself to strengthen its claim on the Budweiser name. And anyone used to drinking Budvar lager isn’t that happy when they travel elsewhere and order a Budweiser. They’re served a drink that has too many impurities to legally qualify as water but too much water to qualify as anything else.
At the time of writing, Budweiser is involved in some controversy over an ad campaign, which we trust will soon be forgotten. Note: We aren’t insulting Budweiser because of their ad. That would be stupid. We would insult Budweiser based solely on the quality of their beer, no matter the context. And now we also have a new reason to insult them — the name.
Maybe they should have called themselves Louisbrew, after St. Louis, which is where the beer really originated. Nowadays, that would cement their reputation as a patriotic American beverage, even though their current parent company is AB InBev, a company from Leuven, Belgium.
Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.