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The art and science of naming a wheat variety

What's in a name?

Well, a lot more than you might think, at least when it comes to the Oklahoma State University-bred wheat varieties that ultimately graduate from experimental lines to commercial products.

The OSU Wheat Improvement Team invests an average of 10 to 12 years developing each of the high performing varieties for which the breeding program is known. The same exacting attention is given to naming the tangible fruits of that labor.

In fact, the naming process often begins 1 to 3 years before a variety is released. Yes, it’s that serious.

“As soon as I see an experimental line with commercial potential, the marketing gears begin to turn,” said Brett Carver, OSU wheat breeder.

In late September, OSU released four new hard red winter wheat varieties. As part of their official rollout, experimental lines OK12716, OK13209, OK13621 and OK13625 became Showdown, Green Hammer, Baker’s Ann and Skydance.

The quartet joins other OSU-bred varieties branded with colorfully descriptive, yet deeply meaningful, names. Examples include Smith’s Gold, Stardust and Spirit Rider.

Showdown’s name is a nod to its high yield potential and its toughness, while Green Hammer’s moniker refers to its grit and stout disease-resistance package.

“Showdown is just a good workhorse and good racehorse variety, two-horse power. It’s special because it’s been tough to beat in our own program. We’re constantly looking for experimental lines that will outdo the older experimental lines. This one has held its ground exceptionally well,” Carver said. “Green Hammer’s toughness and greenness comes from an impressive combination of leaf rust and stripe rust resistance. During the disease-heavy years of 2015-17, Green Hammer lived up to its name all across Oklahoma.”

Meanwhile, Baker’s Ann’s name recognizes this variety’s outstanding baking and milling qualities as well as serves as a tribute to The First Cowgirl, Ann Hargis, wife of OSU President Burns Hargis.

“Baker’s Ann is expected to represent OSU as our top ambassador across the entire wheat supply chain, just as Ann Hargis has so remarkably represented OSU throughout our campus community,” Carver said.

Then there’s Skydance, a variety that’s already being used in an artisan flour for an out-of-state commercial baking operation. The name reflects its Oklahoma roots as the Skydance Bridge, a 380-foot-long pedestrian bridge with a soaring 197-foot sculpture, is a well-known Oklahoma City landmark inspired by the state’s bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

“The Skydance Bridge is a landmark in Oklahoma City and this particular variety has already been outside of our state,” Carver said. “We wanted to ensure that Oklahoma connection, because we think it’s going to go places beyond the state.”

Though inspiration comes from all kinds of sources, there’s a definite method to the naming effort.

“First and foremost, the name should be easily spelled out upon its pronunciation, but also, the name should say something positive about the variety,” Carver said. “Often, I like to use names that draw from music – all varieties represent a work of art – or an OSU tradition or that recognize people or animals. Ideas often fall right off a tv or movie screen or good ole newsprint.”