Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

The Big Beef Over One Little Name

Mary Blair's name is as good and Scottish as Robert the Bruce's or Flora MacDonald's. But it is not, as it happens, the personal tag of this redoubtable Scots lady that has brought her 15 minutes - or more accurately three or four weeks (to date) - of fame.

What has done this is the name she has chosen for her sandwich shop.

About these ads

Her establishment might have been known only among the hungry citizenry of the English town of Milton Keynes, if it had not been for her innocent decision to call it "McMunchies." But this catchy title, signaling her Scottishness as well as the toothsomeness of her sandwiches, has now received wider publicity than she could possibly have imagined in her wildest dreams.

To me, "McMunchies" suggests cat kibble, but Mary Blair has described to me over the phone the kind of fare in which she specializes. Not only does it not feature feline nourishment, it also, more significantly, does not include hamburgers, chicken "nuggets," or french fries.

Several weeks ago, as she affirms in matter-of-fact Scottish gutterals, she received a letter in the post. "It said," she says, "that if I hadn't changed the name of my shop within 14 days, they were going to take legal action."

The communication was from the worldwide hamburger people, McDonald's. Why this company would flatter itself into thinking that anyone wanted to copy or approximate its name to sell her sandwiches is hard to guess. But apparently this ubiquitous chain believes it has exclusive rights to the prefix "Mc."

Naturally, this high-handed threat has proved cheerisome grist to the media mill, ever an eager advocate of the underdog and champion of the little man (or woman) duressed by some thundersome monopolistic giant.

Not that Mary Blair (who has more than a streak of The Wallace about her, Braveheart-wise) really needs the media's assistance in the matter. Her response is direct and unintimidated. "I'm not changing it," she says. McMunchies it is, and McMunchies it will remain.

You can tell she means it.

About these ads

Enter Ronald McDonald. According to an unattributed wire story reprinted in Glasgow's daily paper, The Herald, this gentleman is a retired schoolteacher living in Aberdeen. And it is he who has (I merely quote) "threatened to take McDonald's to court" because "the use of the name Ronald McDonald for the clown used by the company to entertain children [is] an insult to the Scottish clan system."

ONE can only speculate that this clownish purloining of his fine traditional Scottish name has mattered to the real Ronald for more than a few years. The company's clown has, after all, been around since the 1960s and, frankly, if I had been called Ronald McDonald (or Groucho Marx, for that matter), I think I might have chosen a profession other than schoolteacher - or changed my name. To be identified behind my back by generations of recalcitrant nippers as "the hamburger clown" would, I imagine, not have contributed to my chances of keeping good order in the classroom. And evidently, if the authentic Ronald ever had a sense of humor concerning his jovial namesake, he has now completely lost it.

Take McDonald's to court?!

As a tennis player (whose name also begins with "Mc") used to say, surely he "cannot be serious!" Maybe he isn't.

Enter Lord Godfrey MacDonald, hotelier on the Isle of Skye, and chief of the clan Donald.

According to the Herald headline, "Lord MacDonald" is "set to challenge McDonald's burger chain over use of the ancient name."

Well, as they say, you shouldn't believe everything you see in print. But believe me: Speaking from his hotel, Kinloch Lodge, Lord MacDonald asserts that he has "absolutely no intention" of indulging in "expensive litigation." But "what I have established," he says, "is that the registration [as a business or trade name] of a surname or part of a surname is illegal in Scotland. It doesn't hold any water at all under Scottish law."

All he wants to do is let McDonald's know that in Scotland at least (whatever they think they can try in England) they cannot claim exclusive rights to the name. The Glasgow phone book does include numerous companies, from architects to car-repair outfits, butchers to bakers, greeting-card shops to wooden-box manufacturers to garden centers, all named MacDonald or MacDonald's. There is a MacDonalds Toy Station, a MacDonald Washing Machine Repairs - and also, let McDonald's burgers take note, a law firm called MacDonalds Solicitors.

The noble Scottish Lord (who, unlike Mary Blair, sounds as indelibly English on the phone as the Princess of Wales) sees the funny side of all this from the newspapers' angle, but points out more seriously that in fact he is the only individual in the world who can be properly called "The MacDonald." He says: "I am The MacDonald." This means that McDonald's hamburgers could, he tells me, "be my hamburgers!" He quickly adds, however: "I'm glad they're not - but you see what I mean." He and his wife, Clare, are in the catering business, and a converse question they might ask is: Is the use of his name to sell hamburgers "in fact debasing our product?"

He has a point.

I can't help wondering why on earth McDonald's does not quietly forget the whole embarrassing McMunchies episode. A corporate sense of humor might help. Whatever good things McDonald's does to beef and bread, it surely does not want to be known for smashing harmless butterflies like Mary Blair with clumsily swung sledgehammers.

Besides which, taking on the Scots - as others have found to their cost in the past - can prove a dodgy business.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.