The real reason Uncle Ben's just changed its name

Starting next year, you won't find Uncle Ben's rice on store shelves. The popular brand of rice will still be available, but under a new name that feels more inclusive. Mars, the food company that makes the product, has changed the name to Ben's Original. The Wall Street Journal said the name and logo change would happen immediately online. The current box features the Uncle Ben's name and the familiar face of a Black man who represents Uncle Ben. The product line that will be known as Ben's Original also includes precooked "ready rice," brown rice, and flavored rice dishes.

The man on the box is actually Frank Brown, a restaurant maitre d' who posed for the image around World War II. The rice has been sold under the Uncle Ben's name since 1937 and was supposedly named after a rice farmer in Houston who had a reputation for high-quality rice.

At least a couple things are wrong with the name "Uncle Ben," according to Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, who wrote a history of advertising (via The Wall Street Journal). For one, calling Black men "uncle" was common decades ago because white people avoided giving them the title of "mister." The image of the smiling Black man in a bow tie also perpetuates a stereotype of subservience.

Aunt Jemima and Eskimo Pie are changing their names, too

Ben's Original joins other brands undergoing a makeover amid calls for racial justice. Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix, which suffers from the same shortcomings as Uncle Ben's, will get a name change and a reimaging, too. PepsiCo, owner of Quaker Foods, is expected to announce those changes before the end of the year, according to The Wall Street Journal. The makers of Eskimo Pie ice cream treats said they will change that product's name, conceding that it was disrespectful (via The Wall Street Journal).

Meanwhile, Mars surveyed thousands of people about the name change for Uncle Ben's before landing on Ben's Original. "Our consumers encouraged us not to lose Ben," the company's food global president said. The product's new labels will look familiar, with the same font and blue and orange design.

Mars is also donating to causes intended to improve the lives of Black people. According to CNN, the company is giving $2 million to a scholarship fund for Black chefs, and it is contributing another $2.5 million to support education and food access in Greenville, Mississippi, where Mars makes its products. Eighty percent of the city's population is Black (via City-Data.com).