Q&A: The origin of chocolate bar names

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, vandal with care…

Q: Hi AWC, I have questions about chocolate bars.

A: That’s sweet of you.

Q: Haha. In particular, how some of them got their names. Can you help?

A: We sure can, and some of these stories are quite fun. Where would you like to begin?

Q: The Mars bar.

A: Any theories?

Q: Well, maybe because it tastes “out of this world”? Hmmmm, or perhaps because Mars was the Roman God of War – so it’s what soldiers are given when they go into battle?

A: “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and destroy the enemy”?

Q: Something like that, yeah.

A: Okay, well they’re good guesses, and we’ll come back to the soldier thing later. But the real story of the humble Mars bar is a lot more obvious. It is named after its inventor – having been first manufactured in England in 1932 by a man named Forrest Mars, Sr.

Q: Oh wow, okay, so it’s just his surname?

A: The very same. In fact, Forrest was the son of American candy maker Frank Mars – and the Mars bar itself was essentially the son of the “Milky Way” bar – which Frank Mars had introduced to the US in 1924.

Q: Aha! So, was that a play on his name and outer space?

A: Actually, no. The “Milky Way” was named after the popularity of milkshake drinks at the time. Curiously, in America this bar resembles a Mars bar, while our Milky Way bars are different – sold as “3 Musketeers” bars in the US.

Q: “All for one, and one for the US market, and the rest for all!”

A: Something like that. By the way, the reason that bar was originally called “3 Musketeers” is that it came in three parts (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla) – and yes, they named it after Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 book as a result.

Q: So, the Mars company also makes “Snickers” bars, right?

A: That’s right. The Snickers bar debuted in the USA in 1930. The Mars family owned a lot of horses, and in the weeks leading up to naming this new bar, one of their most beloved horses died. Can you guess what the horse was called?

Q: Hmmm. Trotsky?

A: Nope.

Q: Nougat?

A: Come on, you can do it…

Q: Oh! SNICKERS! The horse’s name was Snickers!

A: Well done. And thanks to a well-timed dead horsey, another chocolate bar got its name. Curiously, when the Snickers bar first arrived in the UK in 1967, it went on sale as a “Marathon” bar – staying that way until 1990. Can you guess why?

Q: Because you’d have to run 42km to burn off the calories?

A: Haha, not quite. It’s because “Snickers” sounded too much like “knickers” – so to avoid anyone getting their knickers in a knot, they changed it.

Q: Okay next! What about M&Ms?

A: These are also made by Mars – first sold in 1941. Forrest Mars, Sr had blatantly copied the idea off a UK candy known as “Smarties Chocolate Beans” (later just “Smarties”). And once again, the mystery of the two Ms is rather mundane – standing for the surnames of Forrest Mars and his business partner Bruce Murrie.

Q: This is fun. Shall we take a break?

A: No, let’s have a Kit Kat.

Q: Ah yes, where does THAT name come from?

A: British candymaker Rowntree (they also made the Smarties) released the first four-finger wafer bar in 1935 after a factory worker had suggested they make a snack that “a man could take to work in his pack”. It started life as “Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp” – but this was changed to “Kit Kat” in 1937.

Q: Sure. But why “Kit Kat” though?

A: Rowntree had actually trademarked the names “Kit Cat” and “Kit Kat” way back in 1911 – with the name holding cache from its 18th century London days as a political venue called the “Kit Kat Club”. The owner, a chef named Christopher (Kit) Catt was famous for his mutton pies known as “Kit Kats” – and it’s likely this culinary connection combined with a memorable rhyming name was enough to trademark it.

Q: Okay, that’s probably enough for today – we might need a part two. But first, earlier you said there was a soldier connection?

A: Ah yes. Well, you were partly right with Mars being related to war. Apparently, 3 million Mars bars went with the British soldiers when they fought in the Falklands War in 1982. And it was actually during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 that Forrest Mars, Sr had first seen Smarties given to soldiers in the heat because the chocolate wouldn’t melt due to the candy shell. His copycat product M&Ms would later go on to first use the famous line, “melts in your mouth, not your hand”, in 1949.

Q: Fascinating! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m attending a meeting supporting my friend who’s addicted to chocolate, marshmallow and nuts.

A: Oh okay. We didn’t know that was a thing.

Q: Yeah, it’s tough. In fact, it’s been a rocky road… bahahaaaaaa

A: …

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