Here We Go Again. KFC Offers $11,000 to Parents Willing to Name a Baby ‘Harland’

Scholarship designed to plump up founder’s moniker

Harland, is that you? - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Doug Zanger

2038. A young man sits across from his parents in a cafe. The 20-year-old is in the midst of a stellar college career and has begun interviews for an internship. One question, however, always keeps coming up—and is usually the first from the interviewer: “Your name is Harland. That’s interesting. Where did that come from?”

Harland, not really caring much about his name’s origins as a kid, can’t ignore the pattern and now needs to know.

“Mom. Dad. Where did my name come from?” he asks.

The parents look at each other uncomfortably. Harland presses.

“Was there someone in our family with that name?”

His parents shake their heads.

“Maybe a neighbor or a friend?” he opines.

Again, awkward silence, until mom fesses up: “Well, son, we named you Harland because we love fried chicken so much.”

“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” asks Harland.

“You were named Harland because, in 2018, when you were born, KFC was offering an $11,000 scholarship to anyone who named their baby Harland, after the chain’s founder, Harland Sanders,” says dad. “Harland wasn’t a popular name and the company was trying to get people to bring the name back.”

“The $11,000 represents KFC’s 11 herbs and spices,” mom chips in quickly. “We thought it was fun. And you were born on September 9, the same day as the Colonel—which was part of the deal. You had to be the first baby named Harland and, fortunately, you were born at 12:02 a.m., so we won!”

“We read a statement in USA Today from KFC’s chief marketing officer at the time Andrea Zahumensky,” adds dad. “She said that: ‘Even though vintage names are making a comeback, our iconic founder’s name was dwindling in popularity, and we couldn’t just stand idly by and let that happen. We hope that this birthday celebration honors the Colonel and encourages the next generation of people aspiring to live the American dream.’”

Harland, soaking in this peculiar news, didn’t get angry. But it did help explain why he seemed to be drawn to brand stunts, especially from KFC. And, yes, the $11,000 did help, especially since going to a state college cost $90,000 a year now. Resigning himself to the fact that his name was unusual and due to a wacky promotion, his thoughts wandered to his younger brother, who was in high school at the time.

“How is Papa John doing,” Harland asks his parents, as the waiter brings their pizza to the table.

“Oh, he’s had a rough go lately, but he’ll be fine,” says mom, tucking into a slice of pepperoni.

“By the way, where did his name come from?”

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@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.