Thursday, July 2, 2009

What's in a Name?

I have one of those names that people want to know about. When I first went to school in Dayton's Bluff - the old German neighborhood in St. Paul, MN, where my family kept Pabst, Inc., a grocery store - kids on the Sacred Heart school playground asked "are you from the store down the block?"

Yeah, that was us.

Of course I knew about Pabst Blue Ribbon, too, since they sponsored the Wednesday and Friday night (boxing) fights on the new medium of TV. Even though we were in no known way connected to those Milwaukee Pabsts.

It occurs to me now that those fight nights on content-hungry black and white early television might have been the first reality shows!

So, when we moved to Arizona I wasn't surprised that the Blue Ribbon connotation lingered on.

As the PBR brand shrunk (it was merged into the Heileman Old Style family in the 90s), store clerks approving my checks would nonetheless remark, "Didn't that used to be a big beer in the Midwest?"

Yeah, it was, if you were middle aged as well as Midwestern. Because in the early 21st century the brand was revived (out of sight) by marketing to 21-somethings who went to clubs catering to local indi-bands, cheap beer and a semi-boho culture.

A brilliant strategy, really: recreate a brand by refusing to acknowledge that it is a brand.

My students in the 1990's, when I began to teach at USF, called me Professor Pabst. By the turn of the 20th century - as email became common - I was GP, my signature on all electronic communications.

Since about 2004, as PBR grew to prominence in the college underground, I became Pabst. (Also Pabst to many of my faculty friends, though this is probably more due to an archaic old-school type camaraderie in which "chums" call each other by our surnames.)

Now, the moniker transmogrifies before my very eyes. For last week in an "ugly dog" contest at California's Marin-Sonoma Fair, the contest was won (or lost, depending how you keep score in such an event) by a boxer-mix with an underbite named Pabst.

It stings a little, but I'll get over it.

It's still an easier name to explain than Hitler. Or Rin-tin-tin.