What’s In A Name: Fast Food

Fast Food!

Food is an amazing multi-sensory experience. Taste is the obvious payoff, but we also talk about it with our friends and watch food shows on TV. Even listening to food (imagine the sound of bacon frying) can make your mouth water!

Fast food plays on these effects. They make their burger sound perfect on that radio ad, and before you know it, you're in the car and on the way for your favorite burger/taco/pizza etc. Fast food in the United States really began as a concept when the popularity of automobiles took off in the 1920s. With the highway infrastructure expanding, more Americans took to the roads, and restaurant chains realized they basically had captive (and hungry) audiences motoring along these long ribbons of concrete.

Have you wondered about the names of some of your favorite fast food restaurants? Some are rather perfunctory, (Taco Bell, McDonald's) while others are head scratchers.


The Columbus, Ohio-based burger chain started in 1969, and founder Dave Thomas named it after his daughter.


In 1960, brothers Tom and James Monaghan decided to spend $900 to buy a small Ypsilanti, Mich. pizzeria called DomiNick's. Soon after, James decided to trade Tom his half of the business for...a used VW. Even though hindsight is 20/20, this would have to be considered a bad deal. In 1965, Tom changed the name to Domino's Pizza. Tom later sold most of the business for about $1 billion, so that was a tidy profit, and a business case study for university students. In 2012, the name was shortened to simply Domino's.


The fast food chain's name comes from the enunciation of the initials of its founders, the Raffel Brothers, or "RB." "Roast Beef" would be a good guess (and/or a lucky coincidence).


The drive-in chain started out as a humble root beer stand that had an attached log house. A fellow named Troy Smith bought it in 1953, and changed the log house to a steak restaurant called the Top Hat. Upon deciding to franchise a few years later, they learned that name was trademarked, so they came up with Sonic in 1959.

Taco Bell

Glen Bell founded the chain, so he just slapped his name on it. It's an added bonus that his name also happens to be a noun that could be used for easy imagery. And it sounds better than, say, "Taco Edwards" or "Taco Smith."

Big Boy Restaurants

Legend has it that the inspiration for Big Boy's name, as well as the model for its mascot, was one Richard Woodruff of Glendale, California. When he was six years old, Woodruff walked into the Bob's Pantry diner as (founder) Bob Wian was attempting to name his new hamburger. Wian said, "Hello, big boy" to Woodruff, and the name stuck.


The subway sandwich chain was founded in 1964 by three New Jersey high school pals. One of the guys came across the word blimp in the dictionary and thought that sounded like a sandwich, after they passed on the words sub and hoagie.


The true icon of the American fast food landscape was founded back in 1940 by the McDonald brothers Dick and Mac, so it didn't take long to come up with the name. Ray Kroc bought the company in 1955, which is the subject of a new movie starring Michael Keaton called "The Founder."

Burger King

A Jacksonville, Florida chain got into the burger biz in 1953, calling itself Insta-Burger King. New owners subsequently shortened the name.

Carl's Jr.

Founder Carl Karcher opened his namesake restaurant in 1941 as a hot dog cart in Los Angeles. Business must have been good, as they moved to nearby Anaheim and debuted Carl's Drive-In Barbeque four years later.


The founder of the Popeyes chicken chain is Alvin Copeland. According to their website, he opened the chain in 1972 and renamed it Popeyes after the character Popeye Doyle of The French Connection movie, not the cartoon character, though the chain would license use of the cartoon eventually. Wikipedia says "Copeland would claim facetiously that he was 'too poor" to afford an apostrophe.'"


Their website says the name came from Moby Dick, and "evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders."


In 1965, a young man named Fred DeLuca wanted to become a doctor, and a family friend thought opening a sandwich shop would be a good way to pay for his education. He borrowed some money from the friend named Peter Buck (who happened to be a doctor), and Pete's Super Submarines shop was born. The name was changed to Subway in 1968. Extra trivia: Their holding company is called Doctors Associates, named after Deluca's desire to be a doctor, and the fact Peter Buck had a doctorate in physics.


The yogurt chain TCBY name originally meant "This Can't Be Yogurt." A lawsuit from a similarly-named competitor forced a change to "The Country's Best Yogurt."

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