11 Businesses You Might Not Know Were Started By Women

Kikkoman soy sauce, a company founded by a widow, according to legend
Kikkoman soy sauce, a company founded by a widow, according to legend
RICHARD MASONER/CYCLEICIOUS, FLICKR // CC BY-SA 2.0

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there were more than 11.6 million women-owned firms in the U.S., generating $1.7 trillion in sales, as of 2017. In addition to all the major inventions women have given us over the years, female entrepreneurs and visionaries have founded and owned companies in fields ranging from tech to television, fashion to food, and everything in between. Here are just a few examples of the game-changing enterprises women have founded or co-founded.

1. Kikkoman

glass bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce.
iStock.com/DarioZg

The origin story behind one of the world’s best-known soy sauce brands dates all the way back to 17th century Japan. As legend has it, an upper-class war widow named Shige Maki escaped in disguise with her son from Osaka Castle, their war-ravaged home, to Edo (the city that would become Toyko). Maki and her son learned to cultivate rice and brew soy sauce like their new neighbors, and Maki’s tweaks to the production process went over so well that 350 years later Kikkoman is still making a version of the stuff.

2. Flickr

A logo for the Flickr website is displayed during an announcement in 2013
A logo for the Flickr website displayed during an announcement in 2013
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Web design consultants Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield had originally developed a social interaction-based online game, but it wasn’t until Butterfield was up sick all night while the couple was at a 2003 gaming conference that the idea to just focus on the game’s photo-sharing aspect struck. Today, the online photo album site hosts tens of billions of photos and has changed the way people capture their lives on camera. Yahoo acquired the company from Fake and Butterfield for an undisclosed but hefty sum in 2005; in 2018, it was bought by independent image-hosting firm SmugMug.

3. Spanx

Sara Blakely attends the launch of Haute Contour by SPANX at Saks Fifth Avenue in 2009
Sara Blakely attends the launch of Haute Contour by SPANX at Saks Fifth Avenue in 2009
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Once landing the title of youngest female self-made billionaire didn’t come easily for Sara Blakely. She’d tried getting into law school, standup comedy, selling fax machines, even auditioning at Disney World (she’s said she didn’t get the part of Goofy because she was too short). But Blakely's turning point came at age 29 when she snipped the feet off a pair of pantyhose so she’d have a smoother shape under a pair of white pants and thought she might be onto something. She was. Spanx shapewear has since expanded to more than 200 products and a chain of retail stores, and has scores of celebrity devotees including Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Michelle Obama. In 2013, Blakely—who still owns 100 percent of the company—made headlines for pledging to donate half her wealth to charitable causes.

4. Pepperidge Farm

A package of Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In the 1930s, Connecticut housewife Margaret Rudkin started baking preservative-free breads to help alleviate one of her son’s allergies. Soon she was selling her bread (which was named after her family farm) to local grocers, and by 1947 Rudkin opened her first bakery. She'd go on to act as official taste-tester, the company spokesperson, and the importer of products like European-style cookies and Goldfish crackers she'd discovered on trips to Belgium and Switzerland. The brand's sales were already at $32 million a year when it sold to Campbell's in 1961; Rudkin officially retired from the company in 1966, but her breads and cookies continue to be grocery aisle mainstays.

5. Cisco

The Cisco Systems logo in front of the company's headquarters in San Jose, California
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sandy Lerner worked for Stanford University in the early '80s along with her husband, Len Bosack, but the two were frustrated that they were unable to email each other from different buildings. The two developed a router that allowed multi-network exchanges, and the technology was so in-demand that they had $1.5 million in sales by the following year. Lerner and Bosack are no longer with Cisco (and are no longer married), but the networking products company they launched is valued at more than $220 billion.

6. Proactiv

A bottle of Proactiv solution on a blue background

Dermatologists Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields met in the 1980s during their residencies at Stanford University School of Medicine, and in 1995 the friends launched their multi-step Proactiv Solution, a noticeable departure from the spot-treatment-style acne products that cornered the market at the time. In the years since, their distinctive ads and celebrity endorsements (including top names like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber) have turned their skincare line into a household name.

7. Build-A-Bear

A Build-A-Bear Workshop at Mall of America
A Build-A-Bear Workshop at Mall of America
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

The idea to let kids make their own stuffed animals was apparently inspired by an unsuccessful shopping trip founder Maxine Clark went on with a friend's young daughter. When the girl suggested they make their own stuffed animal at home, Clark ran with the idea and opened her first store—a "theme park factory in a mall"—in 1997 in St. Louis. Today there are more than 400 Build-A-Bear Workshops worldwide.

8. BET

Sheila Johnson speaks on stage at The Jefferson Awards Foundation 2017 DC National Ceremony
Sheila Johnson speaks on stage at The Jefferson Awards Foundation 2017 DC National Ceremony
Larry French/Getty Images for The Jefferson Awards Foundation

Black Entertainment Television got its start in 1979 when Sheila Johnson used the money she was making teaching music lessons to help fund the fledgling cable network with her then-husband, Robert. The Johnsons (now divorced) have distanced themselves from today's iteration of the channel since they sold the company to Viacom in 2001, but in the '80s and '90s, Sheila Johnson served as one of the original board members and the VP of Corporate Affairs. In 1991, BET became the first African American-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

9. Liquid Paper

Liquid Paper products on display at the Women's Museum
Liquid Paper products on display at the Women's Museum
FA2010, Wikimedia // Public Domain

When secretary and single mom Bette Nesmith Graham discovered white tempera paint and a thin paintbrush worked wonders for correcting typos, she worked on perfecting the solution, calling her product "Mistake Out." Graham slowly started a side hustle after shifts at the bank by selling bottles, and in 1958 she decided to go into business for herself and changed the name to Liquid Paper. By 1968, the company was big enough for its own factory and offices, which Graham insisted include a childcare center and library.

10. The Body Shop

Anita Roddick of the Body Shop in one of her stores in 1986
Anita Roddick of the Body Shop in one of her stores in 1986
Keystone/Getty Images

Traveling the world taught Anita Roddick a lot about unique body care customs, and in 1976 she applied some of that knowledge to the products she offered at the first Body Shop she opened in Brighton, England. Roddick's earth-and-animal-friendly mindset was ahead of its time: she’s sometimes credited with launching the concept of ethical consumerism. Today, you can find Body Shops and their iconic Body Butters in more than 45 countries.

11. Rent the Runway

Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway speaks onstage at Girlboss Rally NYC 2018
Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway speaks onstage at Girlboss Rally NYC 2018
JP Yim/Getty Images for Girlboss Rally NYC 2018

Harvard Business School classmates Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss were inspired to apply a Netflix model to designer clothes and accessories after Hyman's sister complained of needing to drop a fortune on a new dress she'd only wear once for a wedding. Rent the Runway launched in 2009, the perfect time to capitalize on a culture growing increasingly preoccupied with selfies and event photos—wearing the same special occasion outfit twice would no longer fly. Hyman and Fleiss's high-tech interface and Unlimited subscription option have kept the company growing, and in 2016 Hyman and Fleiss's novel concept broke $100 million in revenue.

A version of this article first ran in 2017.

The Top 25 Bestselling E-Books on Amazon Right Now

Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

Right now, the ability to access books on your tablet or phone—without leaving your house or waiting days for an order to arrive in the mail—seems more magical than ever. With just about every book at your fingertips, however, it might be a little difficult to decide which one to choose.

You could ask for recommendations from friends and family, or use this website, which specializes in personalized reading lists based on books you’ve already read and loved. Or you could check out Amazon’s current list of bestselling e-books—updated by the hour—to see what the general population just can’t get enough of. As of this morning (March 31), Elle Marr’s highly anticipated thriller The Missing Sister sits in the number one spot; since its publication date isn’t until April 1, that means it’s gotten to the top of the list on pre-orders alone.

There are several other riveting thrillers on the list, including Dean Koontz’s latest, In the Heart of the Fire, and Christopher Greyson’s murder mystery The Girl Who Lived. Plenty of other genres are well-represented, too, from Stephen R. Covey’s classic self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to Jory John’s charming children’s story The Bad Seed.

And, of course, it would hardly seem like a bestseller list if Harry Potter didn’t make an appearance or two. According to this data, more than a few people are spending their quarantine time reading (or re-reading) J.K. Rowling’s beloved series—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are at number seven and number 17, respectively.

Look through March 31’s top 25 below:

  1. The Missing Sister by Elle Marr // $5
  1. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis // $13
  1. Wall of Silence by Tracy Buchanan // $5
  1. The Bad Seed by Jory John // $13
  1. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms // $2
  1. Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan // $5
  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey // $6
  1. When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal // $5
  1. Rough Edge by Lauren Landish // $4
  1. The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy // $1
  1. If You Tell by Gregg Olsen // $2
  1. Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker // $5
  1. The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson // $10
  1. Rain Will Come by Thomas Holgate // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Other Family by Loretta Nyhan // $5
  1. In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz // $2
  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng // $10
  1. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean // $8
  1. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson // $15
  1. Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley // $10
  1. Lift Her Up by T.S. Joyce // $1
  1. In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn // $5

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Origins of 62 Last Names

SasinParaksa iStock via Getty Images
SasinParaksa iStock via Getty Images

Last names. You've probably got one or two, and they definitely came from somewhere. Whether it's ancient or modern, signifies the beauty of nature or an abstract concept or a job, or is something Grandma came up with on the fly, last names are intimate things that anchor us to our heritage.

Here are the meanings and origins of 62 last names (maybe including yours).

1. Green

Woman in a forest with binoculars
Soft_Light/iStock via Getty Images

Welcome, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans. Did you know that the last name Green has been around since before the 7th century? You could have gotten that name by playing the role of the "green man" on May Day, which involved dressing in green clothing and leaves. But people were also given the name Green if they just liked wearing the color green a lot. So if you're interested in changing your last name, look no further than your closet.

2. Smith

Blacksmith forging a horseshoe
amoklv/iStock via Getty Images

Smith is an old English name given to those who worked with metal. It's probably related to a word that meant "to strike" or "to smite," which means it may have referred to a soldier or to the person hitting metal to form it into armor.

3. Schmidt

Wrought iron detail on wooden door
wernerimges/iStock via Getty Images

Similarly, Schmidt is basically the German version of Smith, which also derives from the word smitan, which pre-dates written history.

4. Lopez

Red wolf
SonyaLang/iStock via Getty Images

The popular Spanish last name Lopez came from lupus, the Latin word for wolf.

5. Thomas

Twin babies crying
leungchopan/iStock via Getty Images

It's from the ancient Aramaic word תאומא, meaning twin, but you can use it on singles or all three triplets.

6. Hill

A small white house on a green hill in the sun.
Antonel iStock via Getty Images

Hill is an English name referring to, you guessed it, someone living on a hill. Other people got the name not from location, but from the name Hildebrand or Hilliard.

7. Lynch

Man on a sailboat
nd3000/iStock via Getty Images

In parts of England, Lynch meant someone who lived by a hill. In Ireland, though, it may have meant seaman

8. Murphy

Vikings rowing in boats
gorodenkoff/iStock via Getty Images

Slightly different, Murphy comes from the Irish term for a sea warrior, which is basically a Lynch during war time. There's most likely a Viking connection here.

9. Novak

Woman giving a casserole to a neighbor
Daisy-Daisy/iStock via Getty Images

Novak comes from the Slovak word for new or newcomer. Good to know if people start calling you that as soon as you get to Serbia. 

10. Gomez

Man kissing his toddler son
Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

Gomo, which comes from old Spanish, meant man, and the "ez" at the end there makes it mean "son of man."

11. Cook

A male chef's hand seasons a rack of ribs.
Mikhail Spaskov iStock via Getty Images

If your last name is Cook, you probably have some ancestors who did that for a living.

12. baker.

Man at potting wheel
JackF/iStock via Getty Images

Dating back before the 8th century, Baker could have referred to someone baking bread, running a communal kitchen, or owning a kiln for firing pottery.

13. Baxter

Man holding a loaf of bread
nndanko/iStock via Getty Images

Baxter is the masculine version of the word bakester, which originally meant a woman who bakes.

14. Becker

Small house by a forest stream
Riekkinen/iStock via Getty Images

Becker is the German word for baker, and the name might have sprung up for the same reasons Baker and Baxter did in England, but it's also possible that the last name denoted someone living by a stream, or bach.

15. Hall

Long old-fashioned hallway
piovesempre/iStock via Getty Images

They were the people who worked in a house or a hall. Or even if you just lived near one.

16. Adams

Stained glass depiction of Adam and Eve in the garden with a snake.
Richard Villalon/iStock via Getty Images

Adams means "son of Adam" in England and Scotland. They borrowed the Adam part from Hebrew, of course.

17. Rogers

Statue of Athena holding a spear
Privizer/iStock via Getty Images

Rogers means "son of Roger." Roger isn't the first man in an alternate version of the Bible, though: His name comes from the legend of the Danish king Hrothgar, who can be found in Beowulf. Hrothgar, by the way, means "famous spear."

18. Thompson

Celtic crosses in old graveyard
egal/iStock via Getty Images

There are of course, a ton of these "son"s. Let's just get a bunch out of the way. Thompson, which is Celtic, means either "son of Tom" or refers to a place called Thompson in Norfolk.

19. Robinson

European robin in a snowy tree
Chris Rogers/iStock via Getty Images

You would be correct in assuming that Robinson means "son of Robin." Or Robert.

20. Roberts

Sunlight through clouds
IgorKirillov/iStock via Getty Images

Roberts means "son of Robert," and Robert means "fame" and "bright."

21. Johnson and Jones

Mosaic of John the Baptist
Tramont_ana/iStock via Getty Images

Johnson and Jones both mean "son of John." The name John comes from the Hebrew Yohanan, which means "Yahweh has been gracious."

22. Jackson

Statue of John the Baptist on the Charles Bridge in Prague
Vladimir Vinogradov/iStock via Getty Images

The name Jack is also derived from Yohanan, so Jacksons and Johnsons are really kinda the same.

23. Evans

Warrior holding a sword and shield
Massonstock/iStock via Getty Images

Evans—besides meaning "son of Evan"—is a name that changes definition depending on your background. In Welsh, it also evolved from Yohanan. In Celtic, it means "young warrior." We're learning a lot about what people used to value: warriors, fame, religion, hills.

24. Martinez

Statue of Roman god of war Mars
BMG_Borusse/iStock via Getty Images

It's a Spanish last name meaning "son of Martin," and "Martin" comes from the Roman god of war, Mars.

25. Anderson

Man lifting weights in a gym
twinsterphoto/iStock via Getty Images

The Greek word for "manly" gave us Anders and Andrew, and therefore Anderson, the son of Anders.

26. Wilson

Cat looking longingly at food
Chalabala/iStock via Getty Images

The Will part of Wilson is from the Germanic word meaning "desire." Gives an even deeper meaning to the Tom Hanks' best friend in Castaway.

27. Olsen

Old family photos for genealogy
Megan Brady/iStock via Getty Images

The name Ole came from an Old Norse word meaning "ancestors' descendants". So I guess the Olsens of the world are the "sons of ancestors' descendants."

28. Philips

Man and horse
Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

The Greek name Philippos, meaning "lover of horses", gave us the name Philip. Therefore, every Philips in your life is the son of a horse lover.

29. Fox

Sleeping red fox
AB Photography/iStock via Getty Images

The name Fox was taken from the animal's name. It's one of those last names that started out as a nickname. Usually, people who were called Fox were clever or else had red hair or both (probably just one or the other).

30. Russell

An intricate braid in the hair of a redheaded woman.
sUs_angel iStock via Getty Images

Then there's the name Russell, which is an Anglo-Norman word meaning "red haired" or even "red-skinned."

31. White

Curvy river in green landscape
wonganan/iStock via Getty Images

White probably referred to a person who had white hair or a very light complexion. It's also referred to people living near the bend in a river.

32. Brown

Man in brown suit holding a drink
Yana Tkachenko/iStock via Getty Images

The original Brown was someone with brown hair or who wore a lot of brown clothes. But really, wasn't that everyone in like the 5th century? I guess that explains why there are so many Browns.

33. Kim

Pile of gold bricks
JONGHO SHIN/iStock via Getty Images

Kim means "gold." It's also the most popular surname in South Korea. One in five people living there is a Kim.

34. Li

Bowl of plums
Sanny11/iStock via Getty Images

Li can mean "plum" or someone who lived near a plum tree. It's the second most popular surname on the planet.

35. Lee

A meadow filled with purple wildflowers
Raphael Comber iStock via Getty Images

The direct translation of Lee from Old English is "an open place," so it might have referred to a meadow or a water meadow.

36. Stewart

Butler at a door
Siri Stafford/iStock via Getty Images

The Scottish name would have denoted a guardian who handled administrative tasks for a big royal household. It comes from the ancient word "stigweard."

37. Clark

Vintage typewriter with paper
SimoneN/iStock via Getty Images

Clark means "professional scribe." So if I live near a hill and I'm something of a scribe, would be a Lynchclark?

38. Walker

Raw wool and tools
LuismiCSS/iStock via Getty Images

Walker could have been someone who did fulling, which was walking on cloth to improve its quality.

39. [Another] walker

Two park rangers
Thampapon/iStock via Getty Images

Another occupation related to that name: military officers who would monitor a forest area by, you know, walking.

40. Allen

Vellos in an orchestra
Lindrik/iStock via Getty Images

This name means "little rock" or "harmony." So please enjoy using your Harmony Wrench to build your next swanky piece of IKEA furniture.

41. Myers

A black sign with golden letters reading City Hall
pabradyphoto iStock via Getty Images

In English, Myers means "son of the mayor." It may have also been used as a nickname for someone pompous.

42. Singh

Regal lion
Andrew_Deer/iStock via Getty Images

Singh means "lion." Sikh in origin, it's given to a son on achieving manhood.

43. COHEN

Hot priest
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

It's Hebrew for "priest." But the name might also come from Gaelic Irish where it meant "son of wild goose."

44. PARKER

Female park ranger with lions
aroundtheworld.photography/iStock via Getty Images

The original Parker was a gamekeeper. Or maybe a park keeper. Makes sense.

45. Wright

Woman using a power tool
PIKSEL/iStock via Getty Images

The name comes from an Old English word for "craftsman," and usually denoted someone who made things with wood, like windmills or wheels.

46. Carter

A donkey in front of a green cart that has a sack in it
tom-ster iStock via Getty Images

Carter is also English. It originally referred to a job in which someone would transport goods via cart, hence Cart-er.

47. Schneider

Female tailor
Artem Peretiatko/iStock via Getty Images

Schneider means "tailor" in German. The English version is, of course, Taylor.

48. Muller

Windmills and tulips
Olena_Znak/iStock via Getty Images

In German, Muller meant someone who operated a mill. The English version of that one is, also of course, Miller, and they both would have needed a wright to build their mill.

49. Cooper

Warehouse full of barrels
saiko3p/iStock via Getty Images

In England, a cooper was someone who made barrels. If you get a bunch of barrel makers together in tiny cars you have many coopers in Mini Coopers.

50. Moore

Yorkshire moors
Danielrao/iStock via Getty Images

Moore has multiple meanings. It may have meant someone who lived by a moor or someone who worked on boats, or someone who was dark-skinned, like Othello.

51. Perry

Close-up of a bunch of golden pears on the branch of a pear tree
PaulGrecaud iStock via Getty Images

In Old English, if you were named Perry, it meant that you spent a lot of time near pear trees. That sort of feels like a lazy nickname situation. In French, it was someone who worked in a quarry.

52. Turner

Wood being turned on a lathe
CarlosAndreSantos/iStock via Getty Images

Turner also has a couple different origins. It might mean "turn hare," or someone who can run faster than a hare. It could also mean "one who works with a lathe".

52. torres

Belem tower in Lisbon Portugal
FedevPhoto/iStock va Getty Images

In Portuguese and Spanish, Torres means "tower." So, someone with that last name was someone who lived by a tower.

53. Hoffman

Female farmer in a wheat field
dmbaker/iStock via Getty Images

In German, Hoffman meant someone who was a steward on an estate. Or someone associated with a farm. Either way, do not hassle the Hoffman. 

54. LEWIS

Cannon overlooking a river
Sean Pavone/iStock via Getty Images

Lewis comes from many cultures and has a few different meanings. An English Lewis was the son of a Lowis. Lewis also developed various first names in France and Germany and Normandy and so on. Those with the last name Llewellyn, in Welsh, usually becomes Lewis in English. They all came from the Frankish name Hludwig which meant "famous battle."

55. Young

Female teacher and children in preschool
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

Young referred to the youngest child. You might also might have earned the surname if you were young at heart.

56. Weber

A woman weaving at a hand loom.
WichitS iStock via Getty Images

Weber is German for "weaver." It probably stemmed form the Old English word webbe, which meant "to weave."

57. King

Statue of King Edward VII
AmandaLewis/iStock via Getty Images

In English, King obviously means leader, but many people adopted it who weren't rulers, and it was used as a nickname quite often. You'll notice, for instance, that the Queen of England is not named Elizabeth Queen. But the name became popular among American immigrants from Ireland, and in the 16th century it was also common to give orphans in France the last name Roi, meaning "king."

58. Garcia

Brown bear cub climbing a tree
guyonbike/iStock via Getty Images

The etymology of Garcia isn't certain but most believe it came from a Basque word meaning "bear," or "young bear."

59. Rodriguez

Female chief executive officer
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

Rodriguez means "famous chief." But it may also have come from a word meaning "red-haired one." So, if you're a famous red-haired chief, you're all set.

60. Campbell

Model of teeth with braces
zlikovec/iStock via Getty Images

Campbell derives from two Scottish-Gaelic words: cam meaning "crooked" and bell meaning "mouth." Shout out to all the crooked mouths out there.

61. Abdullah

Muslim women praying
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

Abdullah means "servant of God." It's popular among Arabic Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

62. Mwangi

Tall skyscrapers
Elijah-Lovkoff/iStock via Getty Images

Mwangi is the most popular surname in Kenya, and it means "rapid expansion."

In this episode of The List Show, John Green examines the origins of 62 surnames. For a transcript, click here.

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