Annals of commercial naming: Bear Naked Granola

Brought to me by Facebook in recent days, advertisements for two playful trade names: one — for the Boy Smells company, offering scented candles, unisex fragrances, and (unscented) underwear, all for LGBT+-folk — covered in my 6/16 posting “Annals of commercial naming: Boy Smells”; and now, for the Bear Naked® Granola company. The two cases turn out to be very different.

Boy Smells belongs with a series of postings on this blog on dubious and unfortunate commercial names — some clearly unintentionally racy, some playfully suggestive, some openly, even brazenly, suggestive, given the nature of the establishments (Hooters). The Boy Smells company is almost painfully earnest about its LGBT+ mission, which makes its name — so evocative of teenage pong — especially unfortunate.

Bear Naked Granola, in contrast, is knee-deep in playfulness, starting with the pun on bare naked, so that on the one side, you get a reference to bears, with their fondness for nuts and fruits and honey (all relevant to granola); while on the other side, you get bare naked, suggesting purity and simplicity. And you also get the pop-culture view of bears, as cute and entertaining.

The granola. A bag of classic fruit & nut, which I’ve actually eaten:

(#1) Ingredients: whole grain oats, honey, almonds, canola oil, coconut, raisins, dried cranberries, oat bran, maple syrup, pecans, walnuts, whole oat flour, ground flax seeds, toasted sesame seeds

Three categories of offerings: favorites, organic granolas, snacking granolas. Then from the favorites category:

steel cut oatmeals, classic granolas (banana nut, cacao and cashew butter, chocolate, fruit & nut, maple pecan, peanut butter), benefit granolas (for fitness)

The story of the company. Pulling out the basic facts from a story on the Food Navigator-USA site, “Bear Naked Granola founder on building a brand” by Hank Schultz on 12/10/12: the company was founded by Brendan Synott and Kelly Flateley in 2002 by distributing hand-packed lots of granola to beds and breakfasts and similar outlets; they then branched out into retail distribution; and sold the business to Kashi, a Kellogg subsidiary, in 2007.

But on the company’s site, we get no actual facts — instead, under the heading Our Story, an entertaining fabulation:

We’re just going to come out with it. Bears make the decisions around here. They pick out the ingredients, create new flavors and taste-test every batch of granola we make. Nothing goes out the door before it gets their bear stamp of approval.

Now you may be thinking, why? Employing wild, unpredictable animals seems like a terrible business plan. Sure, we admit sometimes things can get a little awkward, like when casual Fridays become naked Fridays and when the company picnic is BYOB (bring your own bees). But the truth is, the bears keep us honest. Their instincts always point them to the highest quality foods found in the wild. Newfangled food science and unfamiliar ingredients scare and confuse our bears, turning them from jovial, happy-go-lucky granola makers into the scary bears Hollywood actors wrestle with to win awards. So when we say keeping our granola good and wholesome is in our best interest, we’re not just talking about brand image.

Plus, they have some pretty good ideas. Like who would think to mix cacao and cashew butter? That’s classic bear blue-sky thinking.

The cuteness of bears. Our Story at least recognizes that bears are in fact wild animals. But the company also taps into the popular-culture image of bears as cute, generally sweet creatures, in such figures as:

teddy bears, the Three Bears (and Goldilocks), Winnie the Pooh, Smokey the Bear, Paddington Bear, the Charmin Bears, Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, Care Bears, Fozzie the Muppet

The bears in their ads are large and furry, but also adorable:

(#2) From a 2020 animated ad

naked and bare naked. From NOAD on the intensifying adj. naked:

… 2 [attributive] (of something such as feelings or behavior) undisguised; blatant: the naked truth | naked, unprovoked aggression

(as in naked satisfaction in #2).

And from two dictionaries on the intensifying adv. bare ‘totally, completely’ modifying naked, in bare naked / bare-naked / barenaked:

(Cambridge Dictionary online) bare naked: (US) completely naked: He used to walk around the house bare naked.

(AHD5) bare-naked: Chiefly Northern US With no clothes on.

And that’s the expression in one of the names of the Amaryllis belladonna plant. From my 8/8/15 posting “Two in bloom”:

(#3) In the late summer

I know this plant as naked ladies or pink naked ladies [or pink ladies, barenaked / bare-naked / bare naked ladies, or (from Wikipedia) Jersey lily, belladonna-lily, naked-lady-lily, or March lily]. The appearance of the flowers is a sign of autumn, a sign that summer is coming to an end. I was familiar with it from Ohio, and hadn’t realized for some time that it grew around here [Palo Alto CA] as well, and on the same schedule. Its leaves appear in the spring and then die down, and the bulb lies dormant until late summer, when the leafless [“bare naked”] flower spikes appear.

Bonus 1. The Canadian rock band. From Wikipedia:

Barenaked Ladies is a Canadian rock band formed in 1988 in Scarborough, Ontario. [It began as a duo, expanded to a quintet, then contracted to a quartet (in 2009) — all males.]

… When [Steven] Page had an extra ticket to a Bob Dylan concert at Exhibition Stadium, he asked [Ed] Robertson to join him. Bored by the show, the two turned to amuse each other, pretending they were rock critics, inventing histories and comments about the Dylan band. They also made up various fictional band names, one of which was “Barenaked Ladies”.

Oh my, origin stories for rock bands!

Bonus 2. Alternatives to bare naked. From a Merriam-Webster (playful) Usage Note, “‘Buck Naked’ or ‘Butt Naked’?”, the serious summary:

What to Know: While both buck naked and butt naked are used [in an informal variety of English] to describe someone who is fully nude, buck naked is the older of the pair. Butt naked is much newer and likely sees use because of butt having a long history of referring to a person’s buttocks. [And the citations in the M-W files don’t support any of the etymological theories for buck naked the Usage Note surveys. Whatever the etymological story, the two expressions are now simply alternatives in informal English, the Usage Note declares.]

The expression butt naked is in the Eggcorn Database as an eggcorn for buck naked, but marked as now “nearly mainstream”.

And then from OED3, Sept. 2019 (most recently modified version published online December 2020) on the adj. buck naked [1st cite 1913]:

Etymology: Probably < buck [‘the male of several animals’] + naked adj., although the semantic motivation is unclear.

The expression may allude to the resemblance of the smooth and pale skin of the buttocks to buckskin; perhaps compare the motivation of in the buff at buff … Alternatively, it may perhaps allude to buck [‘A male North American Indian or Australian Aboriginal person; any black male’], perhaps reflecting the common practice of stripping slaves naked for inspection by potential buyers. The similar-sounding butt-naked is first attested considerably later

(Please don’t write me to insist that one of these two variants is right and the other wrong. They’re now just alternatives, whatever happened in the past. But nothing obliges you to use them both; if one of them suits you, go with it. I’m a buck naked guy myself, though I have to admit that possible echoes of Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room make me very uneasy; damn you, Vachel Lindsey!)

4 Responses to “Annals of commercial naming: Bear Naked Granola”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I can’t help wondering if the company is aware of the gay-world meaning of bear and the images that a reference to naked bears might inspire. I suspect not.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    (Side note: WP tells me that this was your 600th comment on this blog — making you by far my most frequent commenter. Thank you for sticking with me.)

    I too wondered whether the BNG people were aware of the gay sense of bear. Hard to tell from the material above: Bear Naked is an adjectival, conveying something like ‘naked like a bear’, and doesn’t necessarily suggest gay bears (real bears come naked in nature, of course), while the nominal Naked Bear would open the way for a gay interpretation (but instead we get bear naked, for its pun value).

  3. Richard Vytniorgu Says:

    The bear does look rather cute, I have to say. Might also appeal to straight men who might consider granola ‘not for them’. Looks pretty butch!

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The bear is both butch and adorable. Probably contributing to its appeal to straight men as well as gay is the way it stands in the Naked Satisfaction ad — with its paw thrust into the bag of granola. Hard to believe this wasn’t meant to be seen as evoking a man thrusting his hand into his pants and finding satisfaction through masturbating himself.

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