In the modern world we occupy, tech company names like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and others are a part of our daily life and conversations. Some of them, like Google, become synonymous with the act itself. If you need to search something, you “just Google it,” which is much like what happened to Xerox when copiers came into vogue. Have you ever stopped to consider where some of these names came from, and what their meanings are? Take a look!
As we all know, this company has pretty much redefined how people get things done on a day-to-day basis. But Google wasn’t its original name. The Google corporate history mentions that in 1996, Stanford students Larry Page and Sergei Brin created a search engine and called it “BackRub.” Their first logo was Larry Page’s hand.
The name Google is a play on the mathematical term “googol,” which is a 1 followed by 100 zeros—and it was a total accident. As the story goes, Page was in his Stanford office with some other grad students. One of them, Sean Anderson, suggested “Googolplex” and Page liked the shortened version, “Googol.” Anderson then did a domain name search, but spelled it “Google,” and that domain was available. Page snagged it, and that got the ball rolling.
Like Google, this venerable (and beleaguered) web portal was created in January of 1994 by a pair of Stanford grad students, Jerry Yang and David Filo. Original name: “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” Just a few months later, they changed the name to Yahoo. The “backcronym” for this is “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” According to the History of Yahoo Wikipedia entry, “they insisted they had selected the name because they liked the word’s general definition, as in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: ‘rude, unsophisticated, uncouth.'”
The Yahoo name is about to change, however. According to NPR, if the sale of core assets to Verizon goes through, what’s left will be called “Altaba,” which is a combination of the words “Alternate” and “Alibaba.” The New York Times mentions that “Altaba” is very close to the name “Al-Taba,” which is the name of a scissors maker in Pakistan.
Another website that has changed the way people buy and sell online, eBay’s name is merely a shortened version of the founder’s first choice. Wikipedia says when Pierre Omidyar was launching the site, it was owned by his consulting firm, “Echo Bay Technology Group.” However, when he tried for that domain name, it was already taken by Echo Bay Mines, a gold mining company. So he just shortened it down to his second choice, eBay.
Cult Of Mac cites the definitive Steve Jobs bio from Walter Isaacson for the answer to this one. Walter says about Steve, “on the naming of Apple, he said he was ‘on one of my fruitarian diets.’ He said he had just come back from an apple farm, and thought the name sounded ‘fun, spirited and not intimidating.'”
Whether you find apples intimidating or otherwise is a personal inclination, but either way, the name isn’t going anywhere. It’s particularly fascinating when a brand takes a word, especially an unrelated noun, that already has a definition and then makes it their own.
The ubiquitous e-tailer was almost called “Cadabra,” as in “Abracadabra.” Mashable says Bezos then went with “Amazon” after his lawyer thought he said “Cadaver,” which would easily have gone down as the worst start-up name ever. The story mentions that the name “Amazon” suggests a large scale, and since website listings were often A-Z back in the day, “Amazon” would be towards the top of the list. Wikipedia also says Bezos considered calling it “Relentless” but friends thought that was “sinister.” Bezos bought the domain Relentless.com anyway, and it still redirects to Amazon. Bonus factoid: the smile in their logo refers to the fact they sell everything from A-Z.
When the makers of the popular video chat program were trying to come up with a name, Mental Floss says they came up with “Sky peer to peer.” That was shortened to “Skyper” but that domain was taken. You see a pattern- if you have an idea for a new product, grab the domain before you’ve even made the product! So Skype.com it was.
When Microsoft was in the process of revamping their search engine, the name “Bang” came up. But as Mental Floss correctly notes, that one wouldn’t have played well as a verb. (Their example: “What other movies has Kathy Bates been in?” “I don’t know. Bang her and find out!”) Yikes. So Bing it was, and besides, it sounds a little bit like “Bingo.”