Origin of Oreos

In http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a980508.html Cecil proposes several possible origins for the name of the Oreo cookie:

For the record, the main theories are: (1) Oreo was euphonious and easy to pronounce. (2) Oreo was inspired by the French word for gold, or, a color used on early package designs. (3) The name comes from the Greek word for mountain, oreo, and was chosen because the first test cookies were hill shaped. (4) An O-RE-O consists of c-RE-am between two O-shaped wafers.

Here are my comments on each of the theories:

Theory (1) This doesn’t really explain anything. Even if we agree that the word “Oreo” is particularly melodious – which I’m not altogether certain it is – the question simply becomes why did they choose THIS particular euphonious word?

Theory (2) It’s a bit of a stretch to get from OR to OREO. Given that they wanted to give the cookie a French name, where did the extra 2 syllables come from?

Theory (4) This is an acronym etymology. These are almost always wrong and this one is doesn’t even make much sense. Why use the letters “RE” to stand for “cream”? They could have just as easily used the letters “CR” and called the cookies OCROs.

Theory (3) Of the four ideas proposed, this one comes closest. But there is a problem. The modern Greek word for mountain is actually “voono”, not “oreo”. The ancient Greek word for mountain , “oros”, is closer but still troublingly different. Besides, the whole idea that the cookies were named for a mountain because the test cookies looked like mountains sounds a bit contrived.

If the cookies were given a Greek name – and I think they were – it has nothing to do with mountains or hills. “Oreo” is the modern Greek word for “Beautiful”.

Equally plausible is a connection to the Oreos Athletic Club Football Team of Asbury Park, NJ. They existed from at least 1900-1910, from the cites that Barry Popik has found. The National Biscuit Company, who trademarked the Oreo cookie name in 1913, saying that it had been used in commerce since only 1912, had it’s headquarters in Jersey City, NJ.

Of course, it could be coincidence. But this would be a more compelling link in my mind.

Asbury Park and Jersey City are close to being on two different planets.

Perhaps. But for athletic teams playing each other in the first decade of the twentieth century, perhaps not.

I just searched a few more newspaper cites from the period, and can now report that there was both a basketball team and a football team from the Asbury Park Athletic Club at that time. They played Brooklyn clubs and many others. From Philadelphia to NY to NJ.

They were quite famous in that area at the time. They were evidently rather good. So, their team name would have been well-known to most in that REGION at that time.

So then, where did the athletic club get the name?

Wish it were that easy. Perhaps someday we’ll have most old newspapers and documents digitized and searchable. Until then, we do the best we can.

Again, it’s just a reasonable theory.

If that’s the case, the bakery might want to disown the derivation of the name for legal reasons.
This is what happened with Baby Ruth candy bar which had a logical tie to Babe Ruth but got a different, tortured, deivation when he wanted an endorsement fee.