Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When it comes to naming their pierogi, Sophie’s makes the wrong choice

Product naming is tough. The process quite deceptively seems as if it should be relatively simple and straightforward – as easy as you can say Campbell’s Soup.  – but coming up with a decent name is actually quite difficult. You want one that doesn’t make you look ridiculous, that doesn’t have a double meaning, that translates without embarrassment, that doesn’t throw off a silly acronym, and that won’t be found offensive by the majority of people (not just the ultra-PC crusaders). Trust someone who once managed a product called AutoBJ, there are plenty of bad names out there, and you should really try to avoid them.

Polish Eats, an Ohio foodery -  Peter’s Market: Home of the King of Kielbasa and Sophie’s Café - apparently didn’t get the memo on product naming.

Thus their Sophie’s Choice Pierogi, which are:

…simply amazing…you can always bet that Sophie’s Choice Pierogi are going to be first to disappear from the dinner table! (Source: Polish Eats)

First to disappear? Say, would that be like the child that the character Sophie, in the classic book/movie Sophie’s Choice, sacrificed to the Nazis in hopes (fruitless ones, of course) of saving her other child?

At least their tagline isn’t ‘you’re shoah going to love them’.

Here’s what Nancy Friedman, an expert on naming and branding, has to say:

I don’t care if your beloved founder is named Sophie. I don’t care if she chose the ingredients, the recipe, and the wacky label art. I will not listen to your argument about “choice” being an adjective meaning “of fine quality.” I don’t care if you call it an homage, and I don’t care how you pronounce “homage.”


I definitely won’t listen to arguments about Polish jokes.

Here’s the thing: Literature renders some names off limits. In this case, William Styron got there first, and thanks to him, “Sophie’s Choice” now stands for something horrific. [Children’s bedroom furniture called Lolita.]

Unless you are truly tasteless—a damning thing to say about a food company—you do not get to name your product “Sophie’s Choice.”  (Source: Frtinancy)

Truly tasteless is certainly one possibility here. For your consideration, I offer a few others.

Obliviousness: Could it be that the folks at Polish Eats weren’t aware of the plot of Sophie’s Choice? Maybe when they went to dub their pierogi, nothing came to mind. Maybe all they could come up with for an association was “wasn’t that the movie where Meryl Streep divorced Dustin Hoffman and tried to keep custody of the cute blond kid?”

Obstinacy: Did they so fall in love with the name that they managed to convince themselves that Sophie is Sophie, and choice is a perfectly fine word, and both Sophie and choice were around long before William Styron started typing, so…Damn anyone who thinks there’s anything wrong with our using a perfectly good word. So, maybe they’re just pig headed.

Slyly “humorous”: In a sick, anti-Semitic kind of way. “Oh, it’s just a clever play on words, and our customers will know it’s all in good fun.” Which may not be the wisest route to take, especially given the long history of anti-Semitism in Poland, the sheer numbers of Polish Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust, and that fact that so much of the overall slaughter of the innocents took place on Polish soil. (Also the scene of much of the action in Sophie’s Choice.)

I was actually going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that they did their naming before Styron wrote his book and Streep acquired her Polish accent. But, no, Sophie’s Choice Pierogi Company was founded in 1984, five year’s after the novel was published, and two years after the film (for which Meryl Streep won an Oscar: this was not some under-the-radar indie) was released.

You know, there are a lot of other words that would have worked just fine: Sophie’s Best, Sophie’s Favorite, Sophie’s Special… Why would anyone go with a name that would be offensive to so many, and strike so many as sick jokey?

I like a good pierogi as much as the next guy, but if I’m ever in Garfield, Ohio, I most definitely will not be stopping in at Sophie’s Café. I’d rather eat from a can of Chef Boy-ar-di ravioli mush than take a bite of a “simply amazing” Sophie’s Choice pierogi.

And Sophie’s Choice Pierogi Company can put that in their pierogi and stuff it.

Thanks to my sister Kath for pointing this one out to me.  

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