What is a “bum” and why does fashion have one? Who is “Eugene” from “Eugene’s Record Co-op”? How did it come about that a local winery named its most famous product “Sex”? The ticker was curious too, so we checked out some of the region’s most unique brand names to see how they came about.
“People don’t tell you this when you start a business, but you have a lot of really awful names,” said Nicholas Lefebre, founder and CEO of Elk Rapids-based distillery Ethanology. “It’s a challenge because the name of your company really represents everything you care about.”
Lefebre and his wife, chief distiller Geri, finally decided on “ethanology”, which Lefebre defines as the “science and art of distillation”. The name’s linguistic and scientific ties also helped the couple create a naming scheme for their individual products, all of which are based in Latin. “Mel”, the Latin word for honey, is the name for Ethanology’s honey distillate, while the company’s wheat vodka, white whiskey and wild feed gin are called “Siligo”, “Frumentum” and “Eros” – Latin words that mean “Wheat”, “Grain” and “Wild”.
Brent Faber, who opened a craft brewery in Acme last month called the Stone Hound Brewing Company, echoes Lefebre’s comments about the difficulty of naming a company. The process, he says, is a twofold challenge with craft beer, which seems to have every possible name already taken.
“I had these big lists [of potential names]”Says Faber.” I would wake up at three in the morning and think, ‘Oh, I have it!’ And then hit me [a new idea] into my phone only to find out that this was already the name of a brewery in Kenosha or San Diego or something. “
Faber cycled through “a few hundred” names before settling on the Stone Hound, inspired by a unique hobby in northern Michigan: collecting Petoskey stones. Fittingly, Faber’s entire Petoskey stone collection is now part of the brewery’s 28 foot long epoxy river bar.
Other local company names range from hilarious jokes to heartfelt tributes. Mode’s Bum Steer falls into the former category: Skylar Mode, whose parents Anita and Bob founded the restaurant in 1975, says the name is both a play on words (“Steer” winks at the restaurant’s steakhouse roots) and a game with that Old school slang say “control bums” which means “wrong information or guidance”.
“They just thought it was funny,” says Mode about her parents and the name. “Her motto used to be: ‘We won’t give you a bum. ‘That means you will have a good experience. “
A fun, lighthearted name was also what Jennifer and Mark Davies were looking for when they opened a deli as part of their business, Peninsula Grill, 18 years ago. As a self-described “dog people (also cats)”, the restaurateurs wanted a name that honors their pets. The name was almost “Cat Dog Deli” before the Davies landed on “Bad Dog Deli” instead.
Eugene’s Record Co-op, the downtown Traverse City vinyl record store operated in the Studio Anatomy event space fits into the Tribute category. Brian Chamberlain, who owns both Studio Anatomy and the record store, says the store is named after Eugene Rutherford, who helped launch Studio Anatomy in 2012.
“He’s an older man I met then who provided moral and financial support to get my business up and running,” Chamberlain says of Rutherford. “He really believed in the concept of having a business in Traverse City to promote local artists and give them a place to write, create, record and ultimately perform or show their work to the public.”
For the owners of Hexenbelle, a new cafe in the Traverse City warehouse market, the company’s name was a goal – a way to “illustrate the kind of environment we wanted … something natural, prepared, but also beautiful”. The name “Hexenbelle” is a multilingual hybrid, where “Hexen” is the German word for “witch” and “Belle” means “beauty” in French. The name, which the owners translate as “witch beauty”, gave the shop a mysterious atmosphere and also paved the way for Hexenbelle’s logo: a hand with a mystical-looking flower.
While naming a company is a fundamental decision, naming individual products is an endeavor – and perhaps more fun -. Such is the case for Katie Otterman, who runs Slabtown Cookie Co. from her eat-in kitchen. Otterman’s business card is made up of unique cookie recipes with playful or locally inspired names. One of her favorites is the “Big Deborah,” a “grown-up” version of a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie dipped in white and dark chocolate. the “Euchre Night,” a collection of card game snacks in the form of a cookie (a chocolate-dipped peanut butter chocolate chip topped with pretzels and shredded potato chips from the Great Lakes); and the “Fast Tammy”, a Nutella-filled meringue named after a ski slope in Hickory Hills.
“Naming is so much fun for me [the cookies]”Says Otterman.” You can add a local twist to things or have a little inside joke with your customers. I was an English major, that’s why I always enjoy puns. “
It is similar with Joe Short, the founder of Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire. Of the 700 beers in the Short’s portfolio, Short says that many of the names have special meanings to him and his team. These beer names pay tribute to everything from the city Short is at home (the “Bellaire Brown”) to Joe Short’s iconic mustache (the “Hopstache”).
One beer, “The Magician,” was named in honor of Scott Newman-Bale, CEO of Short. In the brewery’s early days, when the business was struggling financially, Short said Newman-Bale was always his first phone call when it came to money problems. Newman-Bale would consequently “use his magic” to get the brewery out of a tight financial squeeze. “And that’s why he became ‘The Magician’ because he was able to do these things that no one else could do in an almost magical way,” says Short.
Sometimes product names even take on a life of their own. Such is the case with “Sex,” the popular sparkling rosé from MAWBY Vineyards and Winery in Suttons Bay. According to Mike Laing, the winery’s “Director of MAWBYness”, the wine had previously been named “Dionysus” after the Greek god of wine, but it was difficult to pronounce for some customers. It was Larry Mawby, the founder of the winery, who had the idea of turning the name of the wine into a dirty joke.
“Larry said, ‘Well, we could call it sex,’ and then we would just sell sex all day,” recalls Laing. “It was kind of a joke.”
The name was such a joke, in fact, that Mawby didn’t expect it to ever clear up the approval process for the federal wine label. When the label and name were approved, the winery stayed with Sex. It has paid off: the wine has been Mawby’s best-selling product since then, and jokes about the name have become a central part of the Mawby customer experience.
“There’s a tip glass in our tasting room,” laughs Laing. “If someone makes a bad sex joke, they have to make a dollar.”