People have been using owl brand names since at least the 19th century and probably a lot earlier.
The oldest firm in England named after a bird still doing business is Ye Olde Fighting Cock in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. The pub was established in 793 AD, according to its website, though its license dates only to the 17th century. At any rate, the Guinness Book of World Records agrees it’s the oldest pub in the UK.
In the U.S., the oldest product named for an owl that I can find is Kentucky Owl Bourbon, founded 1879, according to the family that still owns and sells it. More companies than ever are naming their firms after owls, according to InspirationFeed.com, which provides logo designs and websites to start-ups. The archives of LogoLounge.com contain over 250,000 logos and it says searches for owl logos on its website have spiked over 200% in the last two years.
Do you need a positive, non-controversial brand name? Do you want people to think your business is smart, your employees are patient and your mission is in tune with nature? It might be a wise move to use an owl brand name for your business. Or adopt an owl as your mascot.
Here are eight historic, interesting or colorful companies with “owl” (or, in the case of Hooters, its slang equivalent) in their name:
1. Kentucky Owl Bourbon
was founded in Oregon, Kentucky in 1879 by Charles Mortimer Dedman. Prior to the enactment of Prohibition, teetotalers were already on the move in Kentucky and in 1916 government agents confiscated Dedman’s entire stock and hauled it away to a warehouse in Frankfurt. Not long after that, over 250,000 gallons of Dedman’s whiskey were supposedly consumed in a fire that burned surprisingly cool for being fueled by alcohol. Rumor has it the finest speakeasies in the nation were pouring Kentucky Owl Bourbon throughout Prohibition. Whoever spirited the Kentucky Owl Bourbon away never compensated C. M. Dedman.
Fast forward almost 100 years when Dedman’s descendants, who operate the Old Owl Tavern and Owl’s Nest Lounge at the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, decided to resurrect Kentucky Owl Bourbon. Today Kentucky Owl Bourbon is made in very small batches and can only be purchased in the Bluegrass state, where it sells for $175 per bottle and more. You can get a pour at the Old Owl Tavern and Owl’s Nest Lounge for just $40, a real bargain compared to the Brown Hotel in Louisville, where you’ll pay $110.
2. White Owl Cigars
was founded in Dotham, Alabama in 1887. These inexpensive cigars, which retail at 2 for $0.99, are still manufactured there. The logo of the snowy owl perched on a cigar is one of the oldest commercial logos. The very first commercial logo, the Bass Ale red triangle, was trademarked in 1870. (You can find the Bass Ale mark in the lower right corner of Edouard Manet’s famous 1882 painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.)
White Owl cigars come in a variety of types and flavors, such as Strawberry Blunts, Grape Cigarillos, New Yorkers, Invincibles and Demi Tips.
John Travolta has said that some of his fondest memories growing up in New Jersey are of his father smoking White Owls. These days Travolta “can afford to reward himself with less pedestrian smokes” such as Davidoffs, Dunhills and Montecristos, according to Cigar Aficionado: The Good Life Magazine for Men
In the movie “Blast from the Past,” Christopher Walken’s character hands down his prized baseball card collection to his son, played by Brendan Fraser, in a White Owl cigar box.
The Swedish tobacco and snuff company Swedish Match now owns White Owl Cigars. Its vision, according to its website, is “a world without cigarettes.” Does that include cigars and cigarillos?
3. The Owl Drug Company,
founded in San Francisco in 1892, is legendary among apothecary bottle collectors. Not only did they sell drugs and related products, they also manufactured bottles to store pills, sodas, poisons and powdered medicines.
Foreshadowing Starbucks, they also made drinking glasses personalized for some of the many locations where they had stores, such as San Bernardino, Kansas City, New York and of course San Francisco. According to a 128-page collector’s book published in 1968 about Owl Drug glassware, most of the items manufactured included the characteristic Owl Drug “logo embossed on into the glass — an owl sitting on a mortar and pestle with T.O.D. Co on the mortar.”
Western actor Richard Edmund “Hoot” Gibson, the idol of millions of kids in the 20s and 30s, got his nickname “Hoot” when he was 15 delivering prescriptions for the Owl Drug Store in Los Angeles.
For many years in the first part of the 20th century, one of the 19 Owl Drug Store locations in San Francisco was in the Flood Building at the corner of Powell and Market. In the 1947 film noir movie “Dark Passage,” Humphrey Bogart’s character rides a cable car, getting off at Powell and Market in front of the Owl Drug Store, the terminus of that line. You can see a still of this scene at the website Reel SF, “San Francisco movie locations from classic films.”
Owl Drug Stores was purchased by Rexall Drugs in the 1920s. It continued to use the Owl Drug Store brand until the end of the 20th century. There is still at least one Owl Rexall Pharmacy, in Covina, California.
4. Red Owl
was an upper Midwest grocery store chain founded in 1922. Before it was sold to Supervalu in 1998, the company owned 441 stores in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. After the sale, a few of the stores became independent and retained the Red Owl name.
Mary on The Mary Tyler Moore Show shopped at a Red Owl in Minneapolis in the 70s. In this screenshot posted at tumbler, you can see her picking a package off the rack in the meat department during the opening credits of season 4. Look for the red owl logo on a poster in the upper right corner.
The only remaining Red Owl store still in operation appears to be Mason Brothers Red Owl in Green Bay, Wisconsin, “Where convenience is King.”
After Brownlow’s Red Owl in Le Roy, Minnesota closed in 2009, it made its Red Owl memorabilia collection available for view to the public. However, according to its Facebook page, the collection was put up for sale on eBay starting February 2016. Prefaced by a tearful emoji, Kay McCloud, the current owner, posted this for his
Facebook fans on July 2, 2015, at 9:59 pm:
The Coen brothers used items from the Brownlow memorabilia collection in their 2009 film, “A Serious Man.” In the film, an orthodontist named Sussman discovers Hebrew letters engraved on the lower incisors of a patient’s teeth. They say, “Help me. Save me.” In one of several efforts to discern their deeper meaning, he translates the numerical equivalents of the letters into a phone number. The phone number belongs to a Red Owl store in Bloomington, Minnesota. He drives to the store, but it’s just a Red Owl. “Just groceries, what have you.”
The Coen brothers like Red Owls stores. The first episode of Season 3 of their television series “Fargo” released in 2017 includes a scene in a small Red Owl grocery, presumably using props again from the Brownlow collection.
opened its first location in Clearwater, FL, in 1983. If you’ve never been to a Hooters, let me explain. Although the owl in the logo resembles a Horned Owl and hooter is slang for owl, the name is not a tribute to Strigidae Bubo. Hooters is also slang for something else. The logo owl’s creepy little eyes resembling nipples should be a tip off. According to the bloggers over at Straight Dope, the bulbous hoot-sounding squeeze-horns on old time cars and bicycles resemble breasts, hence they’re hooters.
Hooters opened the original “breastaurants.” Their success, with over 400 restaurants in 27 countries around the world, has led to many imitators, including the Tilted Kilt, Twin Peaks, Mugs & Jugs, Racks and Bone Daddy’s. The possibilities for double entendre names are unlimited if you’re blessed with a lewd imagination.
Hooters admits that though it’s a sports bar with burgers, salads, sandwiches, seafood and “Hooter original chicken wings,” its main attraction is the Hooter Girls. With their short-shorts and tank tops, they “provide the energy, charisma and engaging conversation that keep guests coming back,” says their website.
Of course, I only go there for the food.
6. Owl City
is an American band created in 2007 by singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Adam Young. I’m mentioning this owl-named band right after Hooter’s because it’s another example of naming an entity after an owl for reasons that would seem to have nothing to do with owls. This owl brand name is derived from the name of Adam Young’s hometown, Owatonna, Minnesota.
However, if there was synchronicity involved in naming the band, it was revealed when in 2010, Owl City recorded Adam Young’s song “To the Sky,” for the film “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” The song perfectly evokes the sense of freedom and joy we vicariously experience watching owls take flight.
And take to the sky (you take to the sky)
There’s a realm above the trees
Where the lost are finally found
Touch your feathers to the breeze
And leave the ground
7. The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
was created in 1994 to “bring the Purdue Writing Lab to students no matter where they were.” It is the “world’s first Online Writing Lab.”
It is also the only OWL acronym with enough cache to appear on the first page of search engine rankings. Which is understandable considering their website gets over 500 million visits a year. When I enter the search term “owl” in Google or Bing, the top entry says “Welcome to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL).” OWL’s Alexa ranking is 1510, which means that only 1509 websites in the entire world get more traffic.
It’s kind of a shame that an acronym that makes absolutely no reference to any kind of actual owl gets the catbird seat for owl SERP rankings.
I also wish they’d change their one-eyed owl logo. It looks like they just hacked off a piece of the Hooters Owl and stuck letters into it. At least give the poor thing a full set of eyeballs.
The OWL might want to consider adopting a real owl as its representative. The website Wild Indiana, “Everything Hoosier Outdoors,” says Barred Owls are the most commonly found owls in Indiana, though it names seven other owls often seen in the state.
8. Origami Owl
had me stumped for a long time. The company neither sells nor instructs people in the art of origami. Nor, as you might infer from having a look at their product line, does it specialize in jewelry resembling owls. The firm was started by Bella Weems when she was 14 years old. The Chandler, Arizona high school sophomore wanted to buy a car when she turned 16. She asked her parents for the money. They said earn it. So she did. In 2010 she started her own custom jewelry company. By 2013 it was generating $250 million in sales.
The company has about 60,000 independent associates who buy jewelry and related products at a discount, which they sell at private parties or “jewelry bars” in people’s homes. The business uses a multi-level marketing (MLM) model, similar to Amway, Shaklee and Avon.
It’s an amazing success story about a very enterprising teen.
But why the name Origami Owl? Bella’s first products were lockets with a variety of charms people could select from to make their own distinctive jewelry. Was an owl one of them? Maybe but I really didn’t find any owl pendants in the collections I saw online. It seems Bella has always loved the origami hanging from the ceiling of her bedroom. Because people can fold origami in unique ways, the word conveys the individuality people bring to designing their own versions of the lockets the company sells. “That’s the signature of Origami Owl jewelry. No two are exactly alike,” she says.
What about the owl part? “Owls represent wisdom, strength, and courage.” Bella says she and her mom, Chrissy Weems, put the name Origami Owl together because they “loved the way it sounded. We loved the meaning even more.”
So there is no origami owl. It’s just a name — and a meaning. Make sense? Well, maybe the idea is also to convey some of the mystery owls represent. If you’re wondering what a real origami owl looks like, I’ve included a picture here.
Final Thoughts on Owl Brand Names
Of course, these eight firms are just the most iconic of owl-named brands. They merely scratch the surface. Bookstores, wineries, bars, restaurants, insurance companies and agencies, creative copy and design firms, property management companies — you name it, you can find almost any kind of business with “owl” in its name. Like I always say, it’s owl good. If you’re noodling around for an owl name for your business, you might want to try out this handy name generator over at Shopify: https://www.shopify.com/tools/business-name-generator
P.S. I am gathering resources for posts about bookstores, bars and wineries with owl names. If you know of any you think I should include, please let me know in a comment or send me an email. Thanks!