The stories behind the brand names for Adidas and Puma by English with Stephen

Word Stories: Adidas v Puma

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode all about the fascinating stories behind the names of Adidas and Puma, and a little bit about Nike.

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Hello there! My name’s Stephen Greene and I’d like to welcome you to my podcast, English with Stephen. In these podcasts I tell stories, talk about learning strategies and explore the reasons why English is the way it is.

All in under 10 minutes!

And today I have a story for you about the origins of two of the most famous brand names in the world. The brands are Adidas and Puma, two of the biggest sports names around. And seriously, it is just an amazing story.

When I first heard it, I couldn’t believe it was true. But I have done my research and I am here to tell you all about how Adidas and Puma got their names. And, along the way, we will also practise words and phrases associated with sport and sports clothing.

All that, coming up after this short break.

Are you into music? Would you like to know more about independent music around the world? Would you like to find out about this music while practising your English? Well, I’ve got just the thing for you. Take a listen to this.

Before we start today, I have to apologise. There are a few German words in this episode and I know I am going to mispronounce them. I am very sorry to any German speakers for what I am about to do to your language.

In the UK, they are called trainers, in the USA they are sneakers. Sometimes people call them pumps, kicks, runners, or tennis shoes. Whatever they are called, they are everywhere. As I write this, I am wearing a pair of Adidas trainers and I remember being about 10 years old and saving my money for my first pair of trainers. They were also Adidas. A pair of Adidas Kick which were black with the iconic three white stripes.

It is amazing that trainers, or sneakers, are everywhere considering the fact that just over a hundred years ago they didn`t even exist!

Christoph Dassler lived in a small town called Herzogenaurach, in Germany at the end of the 1800s. There was nothing particularly special about Christoph, he was married to Pauline, had four children, and worked as a shoemaker.

Two of his sons, Adolf Dassler and Rudolf Dassler, followed him into the shoemaking business. They started out by making soft, comfortable shoes, like slippers, that could be worn in the house.

At the same time, there was a growing interest in sport in the wider German and European cultures. The first modern Olympics took place in 1896 and, although still small, the games were growing and attracting interest from all over the world. There were also sports clubs popping up all over the place.

One of the most popular sports was running. This kind of makes sense because you don`t really need any special equipment to go running and it is a very natural thing to do.

However, if you take running seriously, then the one piece of equipment you do need is a pair of running shoes. The two brothers, Adolf and Rudolph Dassler spotted this opportunity and started to make soft, light running shoes and sold them to runners. The name of the company and the shoes was Gebruder Dassler OHG. Not exactly memorable, I think you will agree.

They also realised that being associated with successful athletes would give them a marketing boost, and so encouraged Olympic athletes to wear their shoes. Perhaps their most famous athlete was Jesse Owens, the black American sprinter who won four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics in 1938.

World War 2 was not good for the two brothers. Rudolf was sent off to serve in Poland, and in his absence, he started to believe that his brother, Adolf, was trying to take over the business. After the war, the two brothers grew to hate each other and so the company they had founded was closed.

However, both brothers wanted to continue making running shoes. They could see the possibilities for the market and so they both opened up their own companies.

Adolf Hassler decided to use his nickname, Adi, and shorten his second name to Das. And so, Adi Das, or Adidas was born. Some people, especially in the USA, say Adidas, but I like the original Adidas. The three stripes that everyone associates with the Adidas brand were not an accident. The problem was that the shoes were so light that they had very little structure and could easily fall apart. Having three stripes of vertical leather on the trainer helped to provide a structure as well as making it distinctive.

Adolf’s brother, Rudolf decided that he would also use his name in his new sports shoe company and came up with Ruda, using Ru from Rudolph and Da from Dassler. He realised very quickly that this name didn’t work and so eventually changed it to Puma.

The split between the two brothers was total. They refused to talk to each other ever again and even prohibited their children from even mentioning the names of their uncles or their uncles’ companies in their presence.

But it wasn’t just a family argument. The Adidas company continued to operate in the original factory from when the two brothers worked together. But Rudolph opened his own factory in the same town of Herzogenaurach. Running through the town is a river, with one factory on either side. The people of the town either worked for Puma, or they worked for Adidas. There were Puma bars, where only people wearing Puma clothing could enter, and Adidas bars, where only Adidas clothes were allowed.

I even heard a story about a man who delivered flowers. He had two sets of trainers in his car. If he was delivering on one side of the river he would wear his Adidas trainers, but as he crossed to the other side he would stop and put on his Puma trainers.

These days, the town, and indeed the families, no longer continue with this feud, even though the two companies are still based in the same small town.

Puma is the third-largest sportswear manufacturer in the world. And the second is, well, Adidas. Not bad for a small town in Germany, or for a family of shoemakers.

The biggest sportswear manufacturer is, of course, Nike, or as some people say, Nike. Now I am not a big fan of Nike, but I do like the name and their logo. Nike was the Greek goddess of victory and the logo is supposed to be one of Nike’s wings. As I said, I much prefer the style of both Adidas and Puma over Nike, but I love the symbolism of Nike.

What about you? Do you have a preference for sportswear manufacturers? Let me know on my site, or on my social media. You can find links to my Facebook and Instagram pages on my site or just search for English with Stephen. And don’t forget to check out…

Thanks for listening, and I hope to speak to you again soon.


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