In the literal sense, Häagen-Dazs means nothing. It was made up by the ice cream company’s founders, Reuben and Rose Mattus, but a closer look at the story reveals that the name is more than just nonsense.
In the early 1960s, after working for his family’s small ice cream business, Reuben Mattus partnered with his wife, Rose, to sell their own version of fruit ice and iced cream to neighbors in their hometown of the Bronx, New York. Rose offered samples out of grocery stores and bodegas, and soon their popularity grew.
That’s when it was time to choose a name. Reuben studied his Jewish heritage and found that Denmark was one of the only countries that helped save Jews during the Holocaust. As a nod to that, he wanted his ice cream to sound Danish. So, Rose and Reuben sat together on their couch, testing Danish-sounding words until settling on a winner: Häagen-Dazs. The first cartons included an outline of Denmark, and they even decided to add an umlaut over the first “a” to make it sound more authentic (funny enough, the umlaut isn’t used in the Danish language at all).
If you saw Häagen-Dazs in its early days, you just might think it was from a foreign exotic land - and it seemed to work! People loved it, and in 1983 Pillsbury acquired Häagen-Dazs for $70 million. It’s now one of the best-selling ice cream brands in the world. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to make stuff up, especially in the name of ice cream.