Here at Lucidica we’ve been thinking about words. Recently I learnt, perhaps decades later than most people, that Cisco was named after San Francisco. It seems obvious when you say it out loud, but it is something that had never occurred to me. This led me to thinking: where do other companies and products get their names? Technology has an incredibly rich lexicon. Yet many of these words appear to have come from nowhere – but they must have meanings. So I’ve set out to bust the mystery of some of tech’s great names.
Let’s start with the easy ones. You may already know that Google is a play on googol (the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes), designed as a name to reflect the mission organise the vast amount of information on the web (also google.com was unregistered). You may also know that Wikipedia is a portmanteau of wiki (a user-generated and editable website, and the Hawaiian word for ‘quick’) and pedia (as in encyclopaedia).
As it turns out (unsurprisingly) language itself plays a bit part in the naming of many companies and gadgets. Nintendo started its life selling card games in Japan so the word ‘Nintendo’, which can be translated to ‘leave luck to heaven’, is a reference to this origin. Nikon was originally named ‘Nippon Kogaku’ which means ‘Japanese Optical’. But not all Japanese companies use Japanese names; electronics manufacturer Sharp is named in reference to its first product: an ever-sharp mechanical pencil.
As with every other industry, many companies are named after their founders or other key people: Dell and Siemens are two prominent examples. In the same vein, some are named after places: Adobe is named after a stream that ran behind the house of co-founder John Warnock. Or how about Nokia, which is named after the Finnish city where it started as a wood-pulp firm in 1865 (it made many, many changes before finally taking on the world of telecommunications in the 1960s)
Speaking of phones what about the unusually named BlackBerry? Discovering that the word ’email’ could elevate blood pressure, RIM (Research in Motion) wanted to come up with a name for its devices that would evoke joy and peace. It was noted that the small keyboard keys looked like seeds and so the company played with the idea of strawberry, melon and other vegetables. Eventually it decided on BlackBerry, as this also referenced the colour of the device. Not all telecoms stories are overly elaborate. Vodafone, the network responsible for the UK’s first mobile phone call back in 1985, is simply named after what it knows: voice and data over mobile fone. OK so the spelling is a little off, but hey, it was the 80s.
And the big two? The history behind the name Apple is up for debate. Some say it was Steve Jobs’ favourite fruit. Or that he worked at an orchard in a past life. Or that, 3-months late in filing a name for the new company Jobs threatened to call it Apple if his colleagues couldn’t think of anything better by the end of the day. Or simply that he wanted to distinguish Apple from the cold-named IBM (International Business Machines) and Cincom (Cincinnati Computers). Google’s Android meanwhile is so named because Andy Rubin, the co-founder and former CEO of Android, likes robots. Fair enough.
Personally I appreciate a good pun, and for that we have Nero. Nero is a piece of software used for burning CDs and DVDs, and popularly used for disc images called ROMs. Nero was picked for the best reason any name can be picked – to make a pun. In this case ‘Nero Burning ROM’ – in reference to the story of Emperor Nero who played music whilst Rome burned to the ground.
Back to 2012, how about online services? Hotmail was the first service to offer email via web pages built on HTML. Hence HoTMaiL. In fact for a while Hotmail stylised its name like that to emphasise the HTML. Meanwhile VOIP software service Skype, Recently bought by Microsoft (microcomputer software, by the way), is an abbreviation of the original working name: Sky-Peer-to-Peer.
Online retailer Amazon has two possible explanations, one inspirational, and one less. You can believe the name was chosen to represent the founders’ desire to be exotic and the biggest in the world. Alternatively Amazon was chosen because Yahoo! (an expression of joy in the southwest US) categorised websites alphabetically. Twitter is another brand which liberated a dictionary definition: ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’ – exactly what Twitter does.
So that’s where some of the big names in tech originated. There are hundreds of great stories out there and we couldn’t cover them all so if you know the explanation behind a big tech brand, let us know in ‘a short burst of inconsequential information‘… err… Tweet.
Lucidica provides IT support to London based businesses from our base in Shoreditch