What Are You Drinking? Soda Names

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and discover something cool about words. Today’s inspiration came courtesy of my caffeine addiction. As I sat here wondering what to write about, I was staring at my bottle of Dr Pepper.

Dr Pepper 10

Why is it called Dr Pepper? (And by the way, yes, it is without the period.)

So let’s talk soda names.

Coca-Cola in a Glass
By Summi from German Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Coca-Cola. Way back in 1886, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Dr. John S. Pemberton, mixed up a caramel-colored syrup that tasted pretty darn good when combined with carbonated water. He took it down to Jacobs’ pharmacy in his neighborhood, where it was pronounced delicious and sold at the soda fountain for 5 cents a glass. Dr. Pemberton didn’t name it, though. It was his partner and bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, who came up “Coca-Cola”–which he wrote in that distinctive script which is still used today. The Coca is for the coca leaves included in the original formula (yep, the same stuff that produces cocaine) and Cola is a respelling of kola for the kola nuts used in the formula (kola nuts contain caffeine).

Pepsi. You could have been drinking a “Brad’s.” In 1893, pharmacist Caleb Bradham of New Bern, North Carolina, created drinks for the soda fountain customers in his drugstore. His biggest seller was “Brad’s drink,” which contained carbonated water, sugar, vanilla, rare oils, pepsin and cola nuts. Yeah, you can see where this is going. The drink was renamed Pepsi-Cola, after its ingredients, in 1898. Unfortunately, Bradham and Pepsi went bankrupt in 1923. The company was bought out, and the drink has since be reformulated.

Dr Pepper can
from Wikimedia Commons

Dr Pepper. Charles Alderton worked at Morrison’s Old Corner Drugstore mixing up both medicines and soda fountain offerings. He experimented with mixtures of fruit syrups until he came upon a formula he liked and offered it to his boss and (after the boss’s thumbs-up)  to customers. It was Waco, Texas, 1885, and customers would come in and request Charles’s special drink by asking him to “shoot them a Waco.” Morrison himself definitely renamed the drink “Dr. Pepper,” but here’s where an etymology fan like me gets disappointed with the research: “Unfortunately, the origin for the name is unclear. The Museum has collected over a dozen different stories on how the drink became known as Dr Pepper.” That’s according to the Dr Pepper Museum, but the Texas State Historical Association asserts that Alderton named the drink after a former boss in Rural Retreat, Virginia–a Dr. Charles T. Pepper. By the way, the period was dropped in the 1950s.

Sprite. Here’s a real mystery. Coca-Cola introduced a lemon-lime flavored soda in 1961 to compete with the popular 7-Up brand. Although some have suggested that the name derived from a cartoon-like sprite used in Coca-Cola commercials in the 1950s, Coca-Cola denies this suggestion. But it doesn’t offer an alternative. The best explanation is that the Houston Coca-Cola Bottling Company sold not just Cokes but also fruit-flavored drinks which were named “Sprite.” Now who thought up that name up is anyone’s guess. But the name seems to have come from a specific bottling company and was then adopted by Coca-Cola as a whole.

Mountain Dew can
By Liftarn (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mountain Dew. Today’s ad efforts are aimed at making Mountain Dew look hip and sporty, but its history is quite different. Brothers Ally and Barney Hartman mixed up a lemony soda as a spirits mixer for the moonshine liquor they produced in the Appalachian stills of Tennessee. They trademarked the name in 1948, and early bottles showed a gun-toting hillbilly chasing a federal agent from an outhouse. When PepsiCo purchased the brand in 1964, its first TV ad used the slogan: “Ya-Hoo Mountain Dew. It’ll tickle your innards.” Have you ever mixed that dew from the Appalachian mountains into your moonshine?

7UP. C.L. Grigg, the founder of the Howdy Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, had met with some success in producing the Howdy Orange drink. He thought he’d give lemons and limes a shot, and in 1929 produced the 7-Up formula. It was originally named the Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. (Seriously? From “Howdy Orange” to that?) Eventually, someone came to their senses and suggested a name change based on the 7 flavors mixed up to make the lemon-soda: 7UP. Which spawned this lovely slogan: Make 7UP Yours.

So what’s your favorite soda? Where you surprised by the origin of any of these names? What would you name a soda if you could?

Sources: World of Coca-Cola; Coca-Cola.com; Marietta Soda Museum; About.com-Inventors; PepsiStore.com; Dr Pepper Museum; Texas State Historical Association; NBC News – America’s Top 10 Brands of Soda; Historic Brazoria County-An Illustrated History; HistoryShortNotes.com; Coca-ColaCompany.com-Who Was the Sprite Boy?; Bloomberg.com; 7UP.com