Since 1981, top-selling turkey brand Butterball has maintained a toll-free Turkey Talk-Line every November and December. This year, you can tweet your questions to the turkey company. But here's a question the turkey talkers probably don't get asked: Where did the Butterball name came from?
Answer: "Butterball" was originally registered as a trademark on June 11, 1940, by Ada Walker of Wyoming, Ohio. (I haven't been able to find out what Ms. Walker was using the name for.) In 1951, Leo Peters, an employee of the Chicago meat processor Swift and Co., purchased the mark (for $10, according to one account). According to his son, Mark, Leo wasn't sure at first what he'd use it for, either.
Presently, though, he found a match for the name. Leo claimed to have developed the Butterball turkey while he was at Swift; he licensed the Butterball name to Swift for ten years before selling it to the company for an unknown price. In the transaction he retained the rights to the use of the name for butter products. Butterball Farms, the company he founded in 1956 (as Peters Pak), is still in operation today in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Mark Peters is its CEO. The company specializes in embossed butter pats for hotels and restaurants.
In my non-legal-but-still-opinionated opinion, Butterball is a stronger mark for turkey (suggestive) than for butter (descriptive).
Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers!