Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Razzie: the origins of award names

By 100m
March 1, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Filed under Branding, Naming, Positioning

People love to congratulate each other. Whether it’s for eating lots of hot dogs, writing a catchy song or being able to play make-believe for millions of dollars, awards are our way of saying you’ve done something better than anyone else.

Like height, eye color or the preference of boxers over briefs, the desire to say “Good Job!” is embedded in human DNA. That’s why we have award shows. Yet amid all the back-pats and dolled up divas, one little thing often gets forgotten: the award itself.

Oscar has the butt shadow of a true performer
Oscar has the butt shadow of a true performer


Oscar’s official name is the Academy Award of Merit, which sounds like a really lame boyscout badge for acting. But the origin of the award’s nickname has much more dubious underpinnings — a truth that has its roots in infamous Hollywood decadence and backroom backstabbings.

Okay not really. “Oscar” was allegedly made up by a librarian named Margaret Herrick who thought the statue looked like her uncle. Not so romantic. Another claimed origin of the tale says a Norwegian secretary, upon seeing the little golden man, exclaimed “it looks like King Oscar II!” So, in other words, all versions of Oscar’s origin have to do with being mistaken for various old, white, bald guys.


Television’s most prestigious award was almost named “Ike.” TV Academy founder Syd Cassyd wanted to name the atom-heaving angel after the television iconoscope tube, but luckily everyone else thought that was a nerdy, unhip idea. So they named it after the early image orthicon camera instead.

Television engineer (a profession renowned for its naming ingenuity) and Academy president Harry Lubcke suggested Immy. That later became Emmy, “which members thought was more appropriate for a female symbol.”


Even though it sounds like the perfect name for an award presented to the year’s best gangster, the Tony Award actually recognizes achievement in live Broadway theater. The statue, which has a spinning medallion with a rather terrifying depiction of the comedy and tragedy masks, gets its name from actress and director Antoinette Perry, who co-founded New York City’s American Theatre Wing in the late 1930s.


The Grammy name is pretty obvious, provided you were born before music became that stuff Justin Bieber tweets about. Like the Emmys, the Grammys are named after an outdated gadget — the gramophone — that no one uses anymore and which many people haven’t even seen.

Physically, the Grammy is easily the most unwieldy of the major trophies. There’s no real way to hold it without looking like you’re cradling a baby, and artists who win multiple awards are given complementary wheelbarrows when they leave for the evening.


The anti-Oscars, the Razzies are otherwise known as the Golden Raspberry Awards. Given each year to the absolute worst cinema burped onto big screens (M. Night Shyamalan won enough of them this year to fill his garage), Razzie comes from the term “blowing a raspberry” — sticking your tongue between your lips and blowing.

That means Razzie “winners” are literally presented with a statue symbolizing a mouth-fart.