By any other name -- 09/18/10

Have you heard about the proposed name change for high fructose corn? Because high fructose corn syrup has taken on such negative connotations for many people -- have you noticed how many food products now proudly proclaim "Contains no high fructose corn syrup"? -- The Corn Refiners Association is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to allow them to call it "corn sugar" instead.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. They are counting on the stupidity of the general public and that has been working for politicians for quite some time. (But do you remember the Ayds, the candy that was supposed to help you lose weight by reducing your appetite? They were a successful brand for years. When term AIDS first began to be used the manufacturer's of Ayds scoffed at suggestions that they had a name problem. The words were not spelled the same and sales had not been hurt at all. Three years later sales had nose-dived and they were desperately trying to find a new name. (They tried Aydslim in England and Diet Ayds here.) Eventually they gave up.

How about kiwifruit? It wasn't very popular when known as Chinese gooseberry. They briefly tried selling it as melonette but that didn't work very well either. Then they came up with kiwifruit and sales took off. That's a name change that has always, for some reason, fascinated me as an example of good marketing.

How about low-euric acid rapeseed oil? Okay, let's call it Canolla oil instead. Yeah, that's another good one. The high fructose corn syrup story has given the news media a chance to point up some other examples.

Prunes? A laughable product that has associations with old age ("wrinkled as a prune") and as cure for constipation. Okay, so now prunes are being marketed as "dried plums."

Doesn't "Chilean Sea Bass" sound tastier than "Patagonian Tooth Fish"? (Although it is not a bass and it may not always come from Chilean waters.) And does "orange roughy" sound better than "New Zealand slimehead"? Now they are looking for a new name for "Asian carp" -- that invasive fish species that is taking over areas of the Mississippi River and Illinois River and is threatening to invade the Great Lakes. In Kentucky they are trying out "Kentucky tuna" and other places are trying "silverfin." Hmmm, sounds fishy to me.

Sometimes there are other reasons for changing a name. Some are (in my humble opinion) rather dumb, such as companies that switch from their well-known brand name to some weird space-age sounding name. Why would U.S. Steel want to become USX? Hmmm, USX, yeah, that tells me a lot about the company and what they do. Other times there are good reasons. Intel, for example, made the 286, 386, 486 -- and then, instead of 586, they named their next processor line the Pentium. Why? You can't protect a number, but you can trademark a brand name.

How will things work out for the Corn Refiners Association? I don't know, but since I'm one of those people who read labels, I guess that just as I now put back on the shelf anything that contains high fructose corn syrup, I will do the same for products containing "corn sugar."

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