Sonic Almost Went By A Very Different Name

There's no denying that the quality and taste of the food served is of the utmost importance at any restaurant. However, a catchy name and slogan has a lot to do with its success, too. Take Popeyes, for example. The fried chicken chain became considerably more popular after changing its name from Chicken on the Run (via Popeyes). Then there's Chick-fil-A, which used to be called Dwarf Grill before it was rebranded.

Drive-in franchise Sonic falls in the same category. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the very first Sonic locations actually went by the name Top Hat. The franchise was started in 1956 as a joint collaboration between aspiring restaurateur Charlie Pappe and business owner Troy Smith. Smith ran a local drive-in root beer stand called Top Hat, attracting the interest of his future business partner. Smith and Pappe worked together to open three more Top Hats, but as the business grew, the two were met with a branding obstacle that changed the course of their restaurant's history — that Top Hat was already a copyrighted name.

How did they come up with the name Sonic?

When Sonic was still Top Hat, its slogan was "Service at the Speed of Sound." This referred to the restaurant's intercom ordering process that allowed people to order their food and slushes without getting out of their cars, as per the official Sonic website. At the time, curbside speakers weren't as common as they are today. The new technology allowed customers to place their orders a lot more quickly, which in turn expedited service. 

Unable to move forward as Top Hat but still wanting to stick with the same selling point of sonic-speed service, founders Troy Smith and Charlie Pappe decided to go with the name "Sonic" to match the existing slogan. The name ended up being much more fitting than the original, and in 1959, Top Hat was officially renamed (via Sonic's Our Story page). Though Sonic has since dropped "Service at the Speed of Sound" in favor of "This is How We Sonic," the drive-in has become such a household name that it's practically synonymous with its signature intercom-based ordering system (via Logo Taglines). As it turns out, the Top Hat copyright issue ended up being all for the best.