The Real Story Behind KFC’s Name Change
Sorry, but it has nothing to do with mutant chickens.
For 39 years, Kentucky Fried Chicken held tight to the name founder Colonel Harland Sanders gave it back in 1952. But in 1991, after four decades of finger licking goodness, the Louisville-based chicken chain ruffled feathers all over the world when it announced that it was changing its name to KFC.
You might remember the email chain letter that began circulating shortly after the name change. The email spread a conspiracy theory that the restaurant used genetically modified chickens, which is why it was forced to remove the word “chicken” from its name. KFC quickly debunked the claim, but that hasn’t stopped the mutant chicken rumor for popping up every few years. In fact, KFC was forced to publicly address the allegations again in 2014.
"There is absolutely no truth to this ridiculous urban legend, which has been debunked many times," KFC spokesman Rick Maynard told Business Insider. "KFC uses only top-quality poultry from trusted companies like Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride—the same brands customers know from their local supermarkets."
The way the chicken chain tells it, they pivoted to KFC simply because it had fewer syllables. Also, nixing the word “fried” would make it easier to appeal to more health-conscious consumers.
“Maybe because KFC is just easier to say with your mouth full. Or maybe KFC fits better on signs,” the company explains on its website. “In reality, we wanted to let our customers know that we had more for them to enjoy than just fried chicken, and many were already calling us KFC, as it was much easier to say.”
But a desire for brevity isn’t the whole story. According to Harvard Business Review, the name change actually stemmed from trademark issues and licensing fees with the state of Kentucky. As Snopes reports, in 1990, the debt-riddled Commonwealth of Kentucky took the unusual step of trademarking its name. Following that action, anyone using the word “Kentucky” for business reasons would have to pay licensing fees to the state.
So, while KFC certainly rolls off the tongue more easily than Kentucky Fried Chicken, the real meat of this story is money. Not that we’re complaining! We love those 11 herbs and spices.