What's in a Name Change?

Beaners Wakes Up and Smells the Coffee

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Laura Martinez Laura Martinez
In their quest to be politically correct, marketers sometimes make silly moves that end up doing little more than embarrassing them. Instead of assuaging the supposedly insulted group, they end of becoming the butt of their jokes. And nothing illustrates this better than the recent decision of Beaner's Coffee to change its name because, as the company CEO recently realized after 12 years in operation, it might offend Hispanics.

In case you don't know, "beaner" is a term long used by some Americans to describe us – Mexicans -- as "bean-eaters" (I guess because they think beans is all we eat). The word, first seen in print in the 1960s as a derogatory term, is, of course, racist -- just like many terms Latin Americans have to describe Americans, Asians or Europeans. I want to believe the founders of Beaner's Coffee were thinking "coffee beans" not "sleazy Mexicans" when they founded the chain in 1995. After all, everyone knows there are soybeans, coffee beans, beanie babies, and so on.

But it seems the chain owner didn't want to take any chances. According to a story first reported by the Associated Press on Friday, Bob Fish, CEO of the Michigan chain of coffeehouses, told employees and franchisees that it will now be called Biggby Coffee. "That just doesn't really fall within our mission to have a name that is derogatory," Mr. Fish told the AP. He also acknowledged that there hadn't been any resistance or protests against the name, just people asking if the company knew about the connotation.

The story, of course, caused a stir in the Latino blog community, but mainly because we thought it was funny (not to say plain stupid) for a chain of 77 stores, founded 12 years ago, to suddenly "realize" its name could be construed as an ethnic slur. I am still waiting for Mexicans to come forward and say they were truly offended by the name. A friend of mine actually said he was disappointed with the whole thing: "That's too bad. It was the perfect opportunity to market it as a Latino coffee chain serving only Mexicans, and hopefully taking some market share out of the likes of Starbucks."

But seriously . . . I am not sure how Mr. Fish' epiphany came about. Perhaps it was a sudden jolt of generosity brought about by the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month. But if he, and other chain owners like him, really feels like not offending us beaners (sorry, I meant to say Mexicans) we would perhaps be more grateful to receive better working conditions and decent wages. After all, political correctness doesn't pay our bills. Or at least not yet.

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Read more from Laura daily at Mi Blog Es Tu Blog.
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