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It’s trademarked, Hon

I’m a native Coloradan, transplanted eight years ago to Charles Village, and re-transplanted this past spring to Hampden. My wife and I were sad to leave our beloved Charles Village—we still miss our regular walking route, the vitality imported in each fall by the Hopkins’ kids (and the accompanying relief every summer when we export that particular resource), and all of our regular hangouts (Chipotle, anyone?).

So, when our family started growing, and we needed a larger living space, we found a nice new construction home in Hampden that had been sitting vacant for a few years. Interest rates were low and the price was right. But, it gnawed at me a little that I was moving to Hampden.

I don’t have anything against Hampdenites (is that what we’re called?), I just never understood the whole “hon” thing. As far as neighborhood cultures go, I felt a sense of belonging in Charles Village. Hampden’s death-grip on its 1950’s-to-1970’s persona (28 of those years being before I was born) seems much ado about nothing.

Especially after moving here, I’ve come to realize that most people here do not address people as hon, and it’s rare to see a beehive or those outdated eyeglasses, outside of the annual flamingo-filled Honfest.

The whole “hon” thing is now being recognized as a “Hon” thing, with a capital “H.”  It seems that no one really noticed about 18 years ago when Café Hon owner Denise Whiting trademarked specific uses of the word “Hon.” Last week the media covered the issue, and Hampdenites, and other Marylanders, took up sides with Ms. Whiting, or against her.

I’m not a patent and trademark attorney. I don’t even play one on TV. I have no idea if that was a legitimate and legally binding trademark. Off the top of my head, I see problems trademarking a generic word that is part of a culture that existed long before the trademark, and became part of the identity of a specific group of people.

On the other hand (I admit that I don’t know what “Hon” qualities Hampden had immediately before the 1992 trademark), it is inarguable that no one person has done more to bring local and national recognition of the Hon-identity than Ms. Whiting. She owns Café Hon, Honbar, Hontown, and she founded Honfest. As a recent transplant, I suspect that she has kept the whole thing alive, and people probably only care about Hampden’s history because she resurrected it.

I don’t fault Ms. Whiting. She has a good business sense, and was able to create something. That takes work, and she deserves credit for it. And, she’s probably not even enforcing her rights as much as she could.

When the Maryland Transit Administration started a new ad campaign centered on the Hon-philosophy, she didn’t ask for any money, just the right to approve or veto specific advertising. I’m sure that’s so she can preserve the identity in a way that it has been preserved, and prevent unflattering portrayals of Hons (which assumes that the existing Hon portrayal is flattering, I suppose).

So, in an editorial that makes me proud to be a Hampdenite, something that has not happened up until now, Ms. Whiting wrote, “Well, even if you’re angry at us, you’re welcome to come down to see us for some pie. Just be nice to the waitresses!” That’s the epitome of the Hampden culture—hard work and a friendly smile.

6 comments

  1. Although you participate in community affairs more than most natives, you’re from someplace else. To paraphrase Governor O’Malley, a “New Baltimorean.” (Quick, without Googling, why would no true Baltimoron hire Mayflower vans to move?) That makes the community reaction tougher to understand on a visceral level.

    Like you, I understand Ms. Whiting’s business reasons. In her shoes, I’d probably do what she did. But since she loves to tout her Baltimore roots, she should have forseen that this wouldn’t go over too well with a lot of people. I mean, she didn’t invent the idea (a fair amount of credit should go to John Waters, Barry Levinson and generations of B-more hausfraus), she just hung it on a store and a million bumperstickers. It’s understandable why some people feel that she is just cashing in on something that belongs to everyone.

    And another cornerstone of Baltimore culture is believing that we are being conspired against. So the protests are totally in-character.

  2. Hampden doesn’t have a “death-grip on its 1950s-1970s persona.” The whole HON phenomenon is a contrived, fictional “branding” of a neighborhood introduced by Whiting. If you ask Hampdenites you’ll probably find that most have no attachment to the HON concept or the demeaning, historically inaccurate stereotypes Whiting hypes. I suspect much of the backlash against her branding is based upon people getting tired of her suggestions that she and her contrived cartoon “hons” somehow represents the neighborhood or Baltimore culture in general. They don’t. And the fact that the MTA and other organizations feel they need her blessing to use the word hon and certain iconographic hairstyles or fashions (beehive hairdos and the like) is absurd. She can have her logo with HON in it trademarked—I don’t think anyone has an issue with that. But anyone can use the word hon if they want, even for an organization or on a product for sale, and unless it’s a replica of her damned oval, she should have no legal recourse to stop them.

  3. Except it was really John Waters that marketed, through his films, the “hon” concept. When people, not from Baltimore, reference pink flamingos and beehives, funny accents and too much lipstick, it’s because of his movies, not her cafe.

  4. I think you are missing some facts. Several years ago everyone said “hon”. It wasn’t until the process of gentrification began that those blue collar people were forced out (my family being part of that group). Although you are correct that Hampden is hard work and and friendly smiles hon.

  5. It’s rare to see a columnist acknowledge no background in, or understanding of, a subject, but all too common to see him pontificate on the subject anyway. Good luck on this one. Those are real bees, and now they’re your neighbors.

  6. @John Bratt–non-native that I am, even I know of the local distaste for the Colts and their departure from our great state.
    @Pushkin: I simply acknowledged that I have no knowledge of the legal issues surrounding the trademark. But, as my law professors told me, being a lawyer means we wear many hats–advocate, therapist, sounding-board, etc. Put another way, and stated best by the Federation President, “Just because we CAN do a thing, it does not necessarily mean we MUST do that thing.” And, the blog is not me telling the world the way things are. It’s a conversation. I like my Hampden neighbors, I’m just trying to understand more about my new home.