The meanings behind well-known tech company names
Shakespeare famously mused, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” With this he meant to say that names are useless things that do not alter the value of the thing itself. In modern times, however, it can be argued that a name is actually very powerful especially in the business world. When we hear certain names, we immediately associate it with a service, a product or a feeling. So, how did the tech company names we now know so well came to be in the first place and what are their meanings?
Founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos’ first choice for a company name was “Cadabra”, derived from the well-known magical conjuring term “abracadabra”. The reason for this initial choice was due to Bezos wanting his online bookstore to appear to work like a magic trick – quickly and effortlessly. Ultimately Cadabra was chucked out as a name because of its resemblance to the word “cadaver”.
As you might have guessed, Amazon was named after the mighty Amazon River. Clearly Bezos aimed to make his online bookstore as big and well-known as the river – which we think he has indeed achieved.
According to the late CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, the name came about in a time when he was on a strictly fruitarian diet. He had visited an apple farm and thought that naming the company after the crisp fruit sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating”.
The first unofficial name for Google was “Backrub” because the search engine’s main feature was checking backlinks to estimate the importance of a site. The founders recognised that the name was slightly raunchy-sounding and could be taken the wrong way so a change was needed.
Google was eventually came upon as being derived from a misspelling of the word “googol” which refers to the number one followed by one hundred zeros. It was meant to signify the service’s ability to return a vast amount of information.
Hulu is the online streaming competitor of Netflix. The name Hulu has its origins in Mandarin Chinese and has two separate meanings. In Mandarin when the word is spelt “húlú” it refers to a holder of precious things. Alternately, when spelt “hùlù” it means interactive recording.
Mozilla and Firefox
Mozilla is the free-software community which was created in 1998 by members of Netscape, a company most-known for creating the now defunct Netscape Navigator. Mozilla is, of course, the company that created and distributes the popular and free open-source Firefox browser.
Mozilla is the blending of the words “Mosaic” and “Godzilla”. It was the original codename for the Netscape Navigator back in the 1990s.
Ever since its first inception the Firefox browser has undergone many name transformations. Phoenix was its first title, implying that it was the mythical firebird rising triumphantly from the ashes of the Netscape Navigator. However, the name was already taken so the team decided to change it to Firebird. But once again, this name elicited a negative response from the already-existing Firebird database software project. Ultimately Mozilla settled on Firefox, a nickname for a red panda (which is now their mascot).
Originally the team behind this video chat and voice call service wanted to call themselves Skyper. It is derived from the words “sky peer-to-peer”. Unfortunately, the name was already taken by another company so they dropped the “r” at the end and became Skype.
According to Daniel Ek, Swedish co-founder of this music streaming service, the name came from mishearing a name that was shouted out by its other founder Martin Lorentzon. Liking the sound of the made-up word “spotify”, they thought out their own etymology and concluded that it was a blend of the words “spot” and “identify”.
Believe it or not, the word “twitter” is actually in the dictionary. Twitter refers to “short burst of inconsequential information” and the chirping sounds of birds (hence their blue flying mascot).
Twitter was originally codenamed “twttr”. The initial name choice being devoid of vowels was partly inspired by Flickr (the photo sharing site) and the five-character length of American SMS short codes. They did want to change it to Twitter but unfortunately the twitter.com domain was already in someone else’s hands. Six months after twttr was launched, the company bought the twitter.com domain and officially changed its name to Twitter.
Wikipedia’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, came up with its name in 2001. It is an amalgamation of the word “wiki” and “encyclopedia”. “Wiki” is a Hawaiian word which means quick. It was adopted by Howard G. Cunningham back in 1995 for his WikiWikiWeb (the first user-editable website) and the word nowadays refers to websites that can be altered or edited by its users.
Yahoo! is a company that was around four years before the now overshadowing Google. The origin of the name is quite complicated. It is an acronym of “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”. Say what? It might seem nonsensical but it is actually a description of what the site does.
“Hierarchical” refers to how the Yahoo! database is arranged in directory layers. The word “oracle” means source of wisdom and truth, and “officious” refers to office workers. So Yahoo! is a site for office workers looking for sources of wisdom and truth, and scrolling through layers of information. The exclamation point was added because a company selling barbeque sauce had already taking the Yahoo name.