Why Was Charles M. Schulz's Comic Strip Called Peanuts?

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

Before there was Peanuts, there was L’il Folks, Charles m. Schulz's cartoon he produced for his hometown newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, starting in 1947. Fortunes and world fame are not made from selling cartoons to one newspaper, however. So Schulz pitched L’il Folks to the United Features Syndicate, who was interested in the work, but not the name, of Schulz's strip.

UFS perceived two possible problems. Schulz's existing title evoked the name of a defunct comic strip called Little Folks created by cartoonist Tack Knight. And there was a comic strip that was already a huge success that united features already distributed- L’il Abner.

So who decided on the name Peanuts? The credit usually goes to a man named Bill Anderson, a production manager at United Features Syndicate, who submitted Peanuts, along with nine other alternative names to the UFS brass.

The appeal of Peanuts was obvious, since as Nat Gertler, author and webmaster of a startlingly detailed guide to Peanuts book collecting, notes: “The name Peanuts invoked the ‘peanut gallery’- the in-house audience for the then-popular Howdy Doody television series.”

Charles M. Schulz not only didn't like the name change, but also objected to it throughout his career.

Melissa McGann, archivist at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, says: “Schulz always disliked the name, and for the first several years of the strip's run he continually asked UFS to change the name- one of his suggestions was Good ‘Ol Charlie Brown. Up until his death, Schulz maintained that he didn't like the name Peanuts and wished it was something else."

In his essay on the Peanuts creator, cartoonist R.C. Harvey quotes Schulz to show how much the usually soft-spoken man resented the Peanuts title: “I don't even like the word", he said. “It's not a nice word. It's totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing, and has no dignity. And I think my humor has dignity. It would have class. They (UFS) didn't know when I walked in here that here was a fanatic. Here was a kid totally dedicated to what he was going to do. And then to label something that was going to be a life's work with a name like Peanuts was really insulting."

Gertler points out that when Schulz first objected to the name change, UFS held the trump cards: “By the time the strip was popular enough for Schulz to have some leverage, the name was too well established.”

But in the media in which he had control over the name, Schulz avoided using Peanuts alone, as Gertler explains: "At some point during the 1960's, the opening panel of the Sunday strips (when run in their full format) started saying Peanuts, featuring good ol' Charlie Brown rather than just Peanuts as they had earlier. Meanwhile the TV specials rarely had Peanuts in their title; instead, it was A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, and similar names.”

In fact, I’m not aware of a single animated special that even contains the name Peanuts- the majority of the titles feature Charlie Brown, and a significant minority Charlie's often untrusty companion, Snoopy.

So we are left with the irony that the iron man of comic strips, the giant of giants who created the most popular strip in the history of comics, who made more money from cartooning than anyone, detested the title of his own creation.

Schulz probably appreciated not only the royalties from foreign countries, but the knowledge that especially in places where peanuts are not an important part of the diet or had no association with children, his strip was called something else: Rabanitos (“Little Radishes") in South America, Klein Grut (“Small Fry") in the Netherlands, and the unforgettable Snobben (“Snooty"), Sweden's rechristening of Snoopy.

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It's kinda sad that even with his tremendous success, "The Man" was still able to screw-over Charles M. Schulz - if just a little bit. Charlie Brown was my favorite, although I also love Linus & Snoopy. Many of the female characters were somewhat unlikable - Lucy, Frieda, Plain Patty & Violet were pretty-much bitches. Peppermint Patty was kind of a bully at first, though she mellowed.
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