Slideshow

In Pictures: How 41 tech companies got their names

From Apple to Amazon to Microsoft to Twitter, the names of some of the world's most popular tech companies tend to have interesting and significant backstories.

  • What's in a name? From Apple to Amazon to Microsoft to Twitter, the names of some of the world's most popular tech companies tend to have interesting and significant backstories.

  • Adobe With products like Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobe has been an important and influential player in tech for as long as most can remember. The story surrounding the Adobe name is actually quite charming. The company was named after "Adobe Creek," a small body of water that ran behind the home of Adobe co-founder John Warnock.

  • BlackBerry In 2001, Research In Motion asked a consulting company to come up with a name for its new email messaging device. The consulting company noted that the keys on the device resembled the outer flesh of certain kinds of fruit, including the blackberry. And hence, the name was chosen. What's more, the branding agency that came up with the name believed BlackBerry to be a natural, entertaining, and joyful moniker. RIM ended up changing its corporate name to BlackBerry in January of 2013.

  • Apple The Apple name was drummed up by none other than company co-founder Steve Jobs. According to Steve Wozniak, Jobs came up with the name after visiting an Oregon commune which housed an apple orchard. Unable to think of a better alternative between them, the name Apple Computer was what they decided to go with. In his biography, Jobs said that he liked the name because it was "fun, spirited and not intimidating."

  • Oracle You'd be hard pressed to find a cooler story behind a company name than Oracle's. Founded by Larry Ellison, Bob Miner, and Ed Oates, the Oracle name comes from a database project (named "Oracle") the trio had worked on for the CIA as contractors. Interestingly, Ellison has said that Oracle's very first customer was, surprise, surprise, the CIA.

  • Twitter According to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, the company wanted a name that was reminiscent of what using the service was like. "When you received a tweet," Dorsey explained a few years back, "your phone would buzz. It would jitter. It would twitch." Not a fan of either "jitter" or "twitch," Twitter employees took to the dictionary to look up potential alternates. Per the dictionary, a "twitter" is to make a consistent call of a light, quivery sound. As Dorsey recalls, he and his team felt that the word perfectly described Twitter usage – consistently making light communications. After originally spelling it Twttr, vowels were added to the name later on.

  • Verizon The largest phone carrier in the U.S., the name Verizon is a combination of the Latin word for "truth" (Veritas) and the word horizon. Verizon's own website adds that the word Veritas signifies certainty and reliability, while "horizon" suggests that the company is forward-looking.

  • Pixar When the company was acquired by Steve Jobs, what was formerly known as The Graphics Group was re-named after the made-up Spanish word "pixar" that means "to make pictures."

  • Amazon Founded in 1994, Amazon started out as an ambitious online book retailer and quickly expanded to become the largest online retailer in the world. As for the name, legend has it that CEO Jeff Bezos chose Amazon (his original choice was "Cadabra") because the name started with the letter "A" and thus increased the chances the company would appear at the beginning of any online alphabetical list. Additionally, Bezos liked the name because the Amazon river was different, exotic, and the largest in the world, a trio of characteristics he hoped would one day be applicable to his online store.

  • IBM The name IBM (International Business Machines) was picked by Tom Watson Sr. as a way to make a subtle jab at his former employer, National Cash Register. After all, why go national when you can go international?

  • Nintendo Originally a playing card company, the Nintendo name comes from the Japanese word NIN, which means "entrusted," and the word "ten-dou," which means "heaven." Together, the name means "entrusted heaven" in Japanese.

  • Skype Originally called Skyper, the first incarnation of the name was derived from what the service did, "Sky peer to peer." The name was ultimately shortened to Skype.

  • Facebook The now ubiquitous social network derives its name from what Harvard, and some other universities, call their student directory books – face books.

  • Microsoft The Microsoft name was conjured up by co-founder Paul Allen. The name is the synthesis of the words Microprocessor and Software. Originally, the company name was Micro-Soft, but the hyphen was ultimately removed. Interestingly, Allen and Bill Gates toyed with the idea of calling their company "Allen & Gates" before deciding against it because they wanted their company to remain relevant long after their involvement in the company.

  • Qualcomm The wireless communications giant's name is a shortened version of "Quality Communications."

  • Lenovo The original corporate name for Lenovo – which makes computer hardware and now owns Motorola's handset division – was actually "Legend." In 2002, CEO Yang Yuanqing wanted to expand the "Legend" brand worldwide, only to find out that a number of businesses already employed the name across the globe. As a result, Yuanqing changed the company name to "Lenovo," which comes from combining the "Le" of Legend with "novo," which means 'new' in Latin. The official transition from Legend to Lenovo took place in 2003, with the company spending upwards of $32 million on rebranding efforts.

  • Sega The name Sega is a condensed version of the original company name, "Service Games of Japan." Interestingly, the company was initially founded as a means to import pinball games to Japan for use by American servicemen on military bases.

  • eBay The popular auction site was founded by Pierre Omidyar and was initially called Echo Bay, named after Omidyar's consulting company of the same name. But because EchoBay.com was already taken, Omidyar shortened the company name to eBay. Strangely enough, a recent New York Magazine profile of Omidyar revealed that eBay.com originated as an information webpage about Ebola, "inspired by the national scare that coincided with the movie Outbreak." Once the online auction tool he developed started to gain some traction, Omidyar removed the Ebola information and the company was born.

  • Sony The "Sony" name comes from the Latin word for sound, "sonus." Executives reportedly also liked the name because they felt it was easy to pronounce across multiple languages.

  • Cisco The networking company derives its name from the city in which it was founded, San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the Cisco logo itself was designed to represent the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, while also incorporating a digital signal.

  • Intel Intel processors can be found the world over, across most PCs and, since 2006, in Apple's Mac lineup as well. The Intel name is derived from condensing the term "integrated electronics" into one word. Integrated Electronics was the company's first choice, but the name was already taken. Hence, Intel.

  • Hulu According to Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, the name "Hulu" was chosen because it has two distinct meanings that both fit within the company's mission. First, "Hulu" in Mandarin is referenced in an ancient Chinese proverb as "the holder of precious things." Second, Hulu also means "interactive recording." Kilar notes that the company viewed both definitions as "highly relevant to the mission of Hulu." Kilar also adds that the name was well liked because it had no other translation in the English language, giving them the opportunity to mold and shape its meaning to their liking. As a final point, Kilar says that the company "still wanted a name that was both approachable and fun."

  • Google Google today is the world's most popular search engine, indexing untold billions of webpages. So when the company was first starting out, co-founders wanted a name that was based on the mathematical term "googol," a large number that is the digit 1 followed by 100 zeroes. According to one legend, the "googol" figured morphed into Google when an early investor cut a $100,000 check to "Google" instead of "Googol." Still, some other stories suggest that Google co-rounder Sergey Brin once wrote "Google" by mistake and that it just stuck. Either way, the root of the world's largest and most popular search engine remains a simple and mathematically large number: 1^100.

  • Yahoo! Founded by David Filo and Jerry Yang, Yahoo for a period of time was the Google of its day. Though technically more of a web portal than a search engine, Yahoo back in the day was often the first stop web users would visit to find information on the web. As for the name, rumor has it that the Yahoo co-founders liked the dictionary definition of the word – "loud, crass, rude, coarse, uncouth." Another theory has it that Yahoo is an acronym for "Yet another hierarchical Officious Oracle."

  • Atari The video game pioneer got its name from the Japanese game "Go," in which players say the word "atari" to indicate the imminent capture of an opponent’s pieces. In that vein, it's somewhat similar to saying "check" in Chess.

  • Xerox The company synonymous with photocopying turned to Greek to come up with the Xerox name. In the late 1930s, the company decided to coin what their technology did as "Xerography." The word "xeros" in Greek means "dry," while "graphia" or "graphy" means "writing." The company name was officially changed to Xerox Corporation in 1961.

  • GoDaddy Initially called Jomax Technologies, the powers that be realized that the company needed a catchier name to compete. During a brainstorming session, the name "Big Daddy" was offered up as a suggestion. GoDaddy was suggested as a suitable alternate. While company founder Bob Parsons has admitted that the GoDaddy name is a bit silly, he notes that it's equally impossible to forget.

  • Mozilla Firefox The original name for the once popular web browser was Firebird. At the time, though, there was a database open source project with the same name. Ultimately, the Firebird moniker was changed to Firefox. The Mozilla website further notes that Firefox was chosen because it's similar to Firebird and is unique, easy to remember, and sounds good. As for Mozilla, it's an amalgamation of the words "Mosaic" (which is what the first iteration of Netscape Navigator was called) and "Godzilla."

  • Epson The printing company's name is a partial acronym for "Son of Electronic Printer."

  • Sprint The Sprint name has its origins in the era of railroads and old-fashioned telephones. The name itself is a shortened version of Southern Pacific Railroad International Network Telecommunications. The name was officially changed in the mid-1970s.

  • Samsung In Korean, the "Samsung" character means "three stars," an homage to the perceived and superstitious lucky properties of the number 3. "Stars," meanwhile, carries the implication of being eternal.

  • Sharp Currently known for its high-quality displays and sharp TVs (pardon the pun), the Sharp name was derived from one of the company's founders’ first inventions in the early 20th century – the "Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil."

  • Motorola When the company first launched in Chicago in 1928, it was called the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. When the company released a car radio in 1930, it was released under the Motorola name, chosen by combining "Motor" (on account of it being a car product) and "Ola," which was a popular suffix for sound-based products. The result? Sound in motion. Eventually, the Motorola brand car radio became so popular that the company eventually decided to change its name to Motorola.

  • Wikipedia The "Wikipedia" moniker is the result of combining what Wikipedia is – an encyclopedia – with the word "Wiki," which itself is a web app that allows users to make modifications to listed online content. Notably, the term "wiki" itself is a Hawaiian word which means "quick," a fitting term for a site which lets users make quick updates.

  • Asus Asus may not have the brand cachet that Apple has, but the company still happens to be one of the top notebook manufacturers in the world. Additionally, the company has its hand in all types of computer hardware and electronics, including desktop computers, LED panels, tablets, smartwatches, and more. As for the name, it was derived from Greek mythology, with "asus" being the last four letters of "Pegasus," a mythical horse-god creature that was capable of flight.

  • Nokia The company's second manufacturing plant – back when it was involved in the processing of wood chips – was constructed over 100 years ago near the town of Nokia, Finland.

  • Canon Originally called Precision Optical Industry, the Canon name is derived from "Kwanon,” the name given to the company's 35mm camera prototype in 1934. Kwanon itself is the transliterated name of an "enlightened" Buddhist god of mercy.

  • Flickr Flickr today remains an influential site for photography enthusiasts. Now owned by Yahoo, the company name was originally "Flicker." The domain name for Flicker, however, was taken and wasn't available for sale. Consequently, the name was shortened to Flickr. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake has since explained that the shortened spelling of the word helped the company name stand out.

  • Etsy Interestingly enough, the name of the most popular online shopping portal for homemade and vintage goods was inspired by a foreign film. According to founder Rob Kalin, the name Etsy was born while he was busy watching the Italian film "8 ½." In a 2010 interview with Readers Digest, Kalin explained: "I wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch. I was watching '8½' and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say 'etsi' a lot. It means 'oh, yes.' And in Latin, it means 'and if.'"

  • AT&T The AT&T name is actually rather straightforward. It simply stands for "American Telephone & Telegraph Company."

  • Citrix Originally called Citrus, the company was forced to change its name due to a competing trademark claim. As a result, the company combined "Citrus" with Unix, and hence, Citrix was born.

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