Brigham’s Ice Cream recently changed the name of one of its flavors, dipping into the debate around the ice cream topping called “jimmies” amidst allegations that the term contains racist origins.
Brigham’s Ice Cream is a New England brand that started in 1914 and previously included an ice cream flavor with the name “Just Jimmies.” The company discreetly changed the name to “Just Sprinkles” at some point last year.
“Jimmies” is the New England/Boston-area word for chocolate sprinkles, although the term can also refer to all types of sprinkles. Some have claimed that the term “jimmies” has ties to the Jim Crow-era, specifically because the sprinkles are brown in color or because the name might be referring to Jim Crow, the main character of the 1830s minstrel song that became synonymous with racist culture.
The fact-checking site Snopes has stated that the claim that the name comes from Jim Crow themes is “unproven.” In a 2009 post, Snopes concluded, “No valid reason exists to suppose that ‘jimmies’ carries a racist meaning or had a racially-charged origin. However, it’s difficult to definitively disprove the claim because the term’s entry into the English language is downright murky.”
Brigham’s Ice Cream’s website includes a discussion of fun facts about the company, and one archived post explains the history of the candy topping.
The website states that “jimmies” were created by Just Born Candy Company and named after an employee, James Bartholomew, who worked at the company in 1930. “Bartholomew operated a machine that produced Born’s latest invention, tiny hot-dog shaped chocolate sprinkly things. But what to call them?” The website continues, “[founder Samuel] Born briefly pondered that question before deciding to accredit the name to the producer, Jimmy Bartholomew. The new product was named JIMMIES, which is still a trademarked name, but no longer made by Just Born.The dictionary definition for JIMMIES used to be ‘decorative things.’ They have also been called toppettes, shots, fancies, trimettes and sprinkles.”
Just Born’s claims of inventing the “jimmies” has been questioned, as well, due to reporting that newspapers included advertisements of the candies in 1921 — two years before Just Born asserts the toppings were first created.
Patch, a service that connects residents to happenings and information about their local communities, included an article detailing the change in the community of Lynnfield, Massachusetts.
HP Hood, Brigham’s parent company, explained the reasoning behind the shift. Hood spokesperson Lynne Bohan said in an email, “While the origins of the word ‘jimmies’ is unclear, Brigham’s made the decision to change the name to ensure the brand reflects our values and meets our consumers’ expectations … Just Sprinkles remains the same flavor/recipe that Brigham’s fans know and love.”
The sprinkles are not the first food item to have its original branding questioned. Last month, Quaker Oats changed the name of their breakfast foods label to “Pearl Milling Company” from “Aunt Jemima.”
The Daily Wire reported at the time, “Quaker announced in June of last year that it would be retiring the famous brand following the Black Lives Matter protests that spread across the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.”
While the origin of the term “jimmies” remains unclear, the move might demonstrate how companies are taking preemptive action to offset potential conflict or criticism over product names.