One thing is certain: Oreos were created in 1912 by the National Biscuit Company (Na-Bis-Co) to compete with the then-famous Hydrox biscuit, produced by Sunshine Biscuits. Oreo's history has been kept secret by the company, which Mondelez International now controls. In the cookie's passionate fanbase, which baffles people from all over the world, theories are continuing to form despite the fact that its naming history is conspicuously omitted from its FAQ page and brand history.
The corporate conflicts that initially gathered attention on the cookie are almost as complicated as the theories surrounding Oreo's eponymous origins, Oreo’s deepest enigma. The most popular explanation claims that Oreo is a translation of or, French for "gold," which was allegedly the hue of the original packaging. Others claim it refers to "orexigenic," a term used in medicine to describe drugs that increase hunger. Another widely accepted theory sets a complex symbolic framework, which makes more sense if you put on a tinfoil hat, wherein the two Os in "Oreo" stand for cookies with cREam in the center.
On the other hand, there was Hydrox, the first instance of the iconic combination of cookies and cream. Hydrox had a powerful crunch that put Nabisco's delicate Sugar Wafers to shame thanks to the combination of bitter chocolate shortbread and sweet vanilla fondant. Hydrox was marketed by Loose-Wiles as "a dessert of itself," and had a stunning appearance. Each wafer had a laurel wreath at the center, six seven-petaled flowers bound together by stalks and leaves, a scalloped edge, and a border of scrollwork.
By chance or out of anger, Nabisco launched the Oreo on the tenth anniversary of Loose-Wiles. In direct opposition to Hydrox's "two chocolate wafers filled with sweet vanilla cream," the clone promised "two chocolate-flavored wafers with a thick, creamy filling." Oreo reproduced what was most important—the laurel wreath—but it could not equal the Hydrox design's level of detail.
However, take a look at the list of premium biscuits offered by Nabisco in 1913: Avena, Lotus, Helicon, Zephyrette, Zaytona, Anola, Ramona, and Oreo. Although it appears to be a random assortment of strange names, there was a trend. The Latin word avena, which means "oats," is well-known for the lotus flower. The word "Helicon" derives from the Florida-native flower species Heliconia. The tropical lily's genus, Zephyranthes, corresponds to "Zephyrette." "Olive" in Arabic is called Zaytona. Ramona belongs to the buttercup family, and "anola" was short for "canola," one of its distinguishing elements (buttercups dotted each box). You only need to glance at the mountain laurel on every Hydrox—Oreodaphne to comprehend Oreo: someone at Nabisco had a passion for botany.
For a while, Hydrox remained one of America's most popular cookies and the "King of Biscuits." Contrary to popular belief, Oreo was not a big hit at first. Advertisements linked Oreo sales to those of other Nabisco goods to assist grocery stores to move their inventories. Grocery stores were having trouble luring customers away from Hydrox. One business in 1914 had a 700-tin stockpile that wouldn't move, so they reduced prices and yelled at their customers: "Yesterday we advertised that splendid Oreos and they were a great bargain. While we sold a few, they didn't move anything like we expected. It's simply a case of your not knowing what a fine biscuit delicacy they are."
Customers wanted a delightful treat, and Oreo delivered with cheery, vibrant commercials featuring sandwich cookies that were crisp, chocolatey, and packed with more filling than any competing product. Nabisco sold Oreos at a loss because of its strength and wealth. The rope-a-dope method worked for Nabisco in the middle of the 1950s when they launched a stylish advertising campaign for "new Oreos" and a fully redesigned biscuit. They increased the price at the same time, which is the pinnacle of reverse psychology. Americans didn't swarm to the suddenly cheaper Hydrox; instead, they avoided it as an overpriced counterfeit preferred by grandfathers on a tight budget.
If opposites attract, Oreos produce a force that can only be described as gravitational. White and black; vanilla with chocolate; crisp and creamy; sweet and sour… Despite how history goes, we will always have another Oreo.
Lang, Adam, and Adam LangAdam Lang is the founder and editor of Rewind & Capture. He is passionate about creative marketing. “Step by Step Naming Guide.” Rewind Capture, 26 Mar. 2018, www.rewindandcapture.com/why-is-oreo-called-oreo/.
Parks, Stella. “How Oreos Got Their Name: The Rise of an American Icon.” Serious Eats, Serious Eats, 5 Feb. 2019, www.seriouseats.com/history-of-oreos-bravetart-cookbook.
Putka, Sophie. “The Truth behind How Oreo Cookies Got Their Name.” Mashed, Mashed, 2 Oct. 2020, www.mashed.com/256005/the-truth-behind-how-oreo-cookies-got-their-name/.
Team, BNZ. “How Did Oreo Get Its Name?” Business Name Zone Blog, 20 Aug. 2021, businessnamezone.com/blog/how-did-oreo-get-its-name/.