Can we separate Jemima from “Aunt Jemima”?

Last Wednesday, the Quaker Oats Company announced that it would be terminating the Aunt Jemima brand as we know it. Here’s part of the company’s statement:

Aunt Jemima brand is removing its image from packaging and changing the brand name. This step is in line with PepsiCo’s journey toward racial equality, and the evolution will help carry the 130-year-old brand into the future.

Thursday and Friday, the companies behind Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s, Cream of Wheat, and Eskimo Pie followed suit with similar announcements.

I’m very happy about all of this, but I’m particularly interested in the end of Aunt Jemima, because that brand is inextricably linked with a distinctive first name. In fact, I’d guess that, for the vast majority of Americans, the first thing they think of when they hear or see the name “Jemima” is Aunt Jemima syrup.

So now I have some questions for you…

Do you think the name’s strong association with the brand — which was established in 1889 and well-known by the mid-1910s — dissuaded parents from using Jemima as a baby name during the 20th century? (And, if so, do you think the usage of Jemima could possibly be seen as a gauge of racism in the U.S.?)

baby name jemima popularity graph

Once the brand name changes, how long before the name’s association with a racial stereotype finally fades away?

Could the Biblical name Jemima (Hebrew for “dove”) ever become a trendy American baby name (à la Gemma, Delilah)?

Sources: Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat review branding after Aunt Jemima announces name change, Aunt Jemima – Wikipedia, Dreyer’s to drop “derogatory” Eskimo Pie name after 99 years

6 thoughts on “Can we separate Jemima from “Aunt Jemima”?

  1. In today’s political climate…I’m not touching this with a 10 foot pole. The freedom of speech is long gone now.
    I didn’t know the name meant Dove, I think that’s beautiful.

  2. I don’t blame you. ;)

    …And I’m definitely not trying to trivialize the bigger issues here. I’ve just always been curious about the plight of the name Jemima in America. I never thought I’d see the day that Aunt Jemima (and similar brands) would be taken off the shelves. So I felt compelled to post. But no one has to answer any of those questions necessarily…they’re just things I’m pondering right now.

  3. I love the name Jemima, and would probably use it anyway… I’ve thought about it before now, and wondered if I could escape the syrup reference. So I hope that it does eventually allow it to feel usable. I would be so pleased to meet one in the wild.

  4. I love the name, and I think you may still see it pop up here and there in the US, but I think it will take a long while before the association with the brand and/or racial stereotypes goes away. I do think it will still see mostly normal rates of use in other countries where the the name is not tied to such a hot button issue.

  5. I’ve always liked the name Jemima as well. And I’d bet it’s largely because of that syrup. (It was always in the kitchen when I was growing up, and what kid doesn’t have positive associations with sugary foods?)

    Interestingly, a lot of the recent usage of Jemima is accounted for by a handful of states:

    • 2018: 62 baby girls named Jemima — 45% in NY (9), FL (7), PA (6), TX (6)
    • 2017: 38 baby girls named Jemima — 29% in FL (6), TX (5)
    • 2016: 44 baby girls named Jemima — 36% in MA (6), NY (5), TX (5)
    • 2015: 35 baby girls named Jemima — 29% in NY (10)
    • 2014: 54 baby girls named Jemima — 33% in FL (10), NY (8)

    That was more state specificity than I was expecting. It’s also weird to see Pennsylvania and Massachusetts pop up, but not California or Illinois. (Who knows, it might actually have to do with maple syrup — and substitutes — being more popular/common in the Northeast.)

  6. I don’t associate it with the syrup at all but rather with Jemima Puddleduck. I think the name could revive in our lifetimes but probably not super soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.