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Wawa here, Wawa there,
Wawas everywhere

We mentioned the small Canadian town of Wawa, Northern Ontario last month, in a story headed North Pole to Guatemala. Since then, we've discovered that, just as the virtual world is full of SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, the real world is full of WAWA, WAWA, WAWA.

Wawa convenience store chain (now comprising more than 500 stores in five states) took off in 1902, when George Wood opened a small milk plant in Wawa, Pennsylvania, which specialized in the processing and home delivery of "doctor certified" milk.

Its website says:

When people hear "Wawa" for the first time, many don't know what to think. They are not really sure if it's a play on words or an improper pronunciation of a thirst quencher, but there's no doubt that many find it funny. However, don't let our name fool you: we take what we do very seriously.

Over 100 years ago, our original dairy farm was built on land located in a rural section of Pennsylvania called Wawa, which was named from a local Native American tribe in honor of their favored game - the Canada Goose. Today, the name Wawa has come to symbolize the very best attributes of our company.

Just like a majestic flock of Canada Geese flying synchronously in "V" formation, we employ the principles of teamwork, group consensus and encouragement in our company. We think it's the only way to fly.

...We use the goose on Wawa's corporate logo.

Wawa serves more than 300 million customers each year! And we sell ...
  • Over 125 million cups of our award-winning coffee.
  • Over 35 million built-to-order hoagies.
  • Over 92 million quarts of our own dairy products, juices and teas.
We've discovered that Wawa is also the Chinook Jargon word for chat. "Chinook Jargon is a 'pidgin' language, a much simplified and easy-to-learn version of traditional Chinook, designed to allow communication between tribes speaking disparate languages and between First Nations people and Europeans," says the University of Saskatchewan Library's website, adding:

U of S Library has just acquired one of the largest and most complete runs in existence of an important 19th century British Columbia newsletter, the Kamloops Wawa, published between 1891 and 1923. The Kamloops Wawa was a multi-lingual publication written in English, French and Chinook Jargon...

The Wawa was published by the missionary Father Jean-Marie Raphael LeJeune out of the backroom of a church on the Kamloops reserve between 1891 and 1923. At its peak it had a distribution of 2000 copies per month, with a circulation that reached as far as Quebec and France.

Washington State has a website called "Tenas Wawa" On-Line. Tenas Wawa was a semi-monthly newsletter about the Chinook Jargon published in Poulsbo, Washington, over four recent years. It was produced in a bid to preserve and teach the language, and thereby promote appreciation for Northwest native culture and the pioneer era.

Wawa isn't confined to North America. Poland has Radio WAWa, a network of some 15 stations which can be heard on the internet.

Finally, a New York doll maker assures us, Wawa is the Chinese word for a doll.

"Welcome to the Wonderful World of Yue-Sai Wawa," says her website. "Meet Yue-Sai WaWa! After successfully introducing Yue-Sai WaWa to girls all over China, we are very excited to bring her to our friends in the U.S. We hope she brings a touch of Asian beauty and glamour to your lives, as well as a sense of history, understanding and respect for people all over the world."

Remember those old-fashioned toy dolls that used to bleat Mama, Mama when little girls cuddled them? Maybe Chinese dolls wail Wawa, Wawa.

POSTSCRIPT. That Wawa name has just turned up again. On March 28, the Washington Post's Style Invitational contest quoted this entry: Wawa is a good name for a convenience store but a bad name for an antidepressant. (Dave Komornik, Danville, Va.).

And as a former BP publicist, I was pleased to see that this entry from Elden Carnahan, Laurel gained an honorable mention: BP is a good name for a gas company but a bad name for a honey company.

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Story first posted April 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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