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How 10 Iconic Tech Products Got Their Names 247

Posted by timothy
from the slash-dev-slash-random dept.
lgmac writes "Think Windows Azure is a stupid name? Ever wonder how iPod, BlackBerry and Twitter got their names? Author Tom Wailgum goes inside the process of creating tech product names that are cool but not exclusionary, marketable, and most of all, free of copyright and trademark gotchas. Here's the scoop on ten iconic tech products and how they got their monikers, plus a chat with the man responsible for naming Azure, BlackBerry, and more. (What's the one he wishes he'd named but didn't? Google.)"
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How 10 Iconic Tech Products Got Their Names

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  • I bet... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:35PM (#25723847)

    ...it involved a lot of pot.

    • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:40PM (#25723923)
      Not really. Naming is actually a really big business and is usually a pretty painful process. I know someone that was a professional namer that worked for a big branding house for a while. The time they spent coming up with names was pretty incredible.

      I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen him working on projects with my own eyes. I always figured a bunch of marketing hacks just got together in a room and tossed around names until one stuck. Maybe I was just biased because that's the way it worked where I was at.
      • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:44PM (#25723989)

        and then there is Apple

        it's a phone, what should we call it? iPhone

        it's a new Mac, what should we call it? iMac

        it handles all your tunes, what should we call it? iTunes

        great, boys, we're done here

      • by Hatta (162192)

        I always figured a bunch of marketing hacks just got together in a room and tossed around names until one stuck.

        How is it done then? I'm having trouble imagining any other way.

        • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Informative)

          by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @02:25PM (#25724525)
          A team of namers is given the parameters of the project -
          product / company type
          target audience
          what sort of feeling the name should convey
          the regions that the name will be used in

          Namers then go off on their own and compose massive lists of names. I've seen the names run the gamut from simple mashups of common words to mashups of greek / latin roots to words based on etymological research of the original target "feeling" words. Then the namers get together and reduce the list down to a set of finalists before presenting them for client review.

          Sometimes it takes a few iterations... Particularly if the objective is to get a globally trademarkable word that won't be misinterpreted as meaning anything offensive in another country.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Gilmoure (18428)

            Hey maygn! Why you buy a car that no go?

          • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Funny)

            by sorak (246725) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @02:54PM (#25724849)

            So, what kind of names do their children have? Did they spend months obsessively trying to determine a name that conveys "don't beat me up, now, please hire me later"?

          • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012@@@pota...to> on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @03:02PM (#25724933)

            And I'd add that some places actively test the names, as well. E.g., asking what people think in focus groups of different names. Or, more subtly, showing a new product to different people with different names on it, and getting stats about their reactions.

            Depending too much on what executives personally think of names is dangerous, because executives are very rarely representative of the target market. That lesson applies to lots of other things, too, like features and pricing.

          • by nabsltd (1313397)

            So, really, it's just a bunch of marketing hacks who go off on their own and come up with a bunch of names and then get together in a room and toss them around until one sticks.

            If nothing sticks, rinse and repeat.

      • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by paeanblack (191171) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @02:28PM (#25724561)

        Naming is actually a really big business and is usually a pretty painful process. I know someone that was a professional namer that worked for a big branding house for a while. The time they spent coming up with names was pretty incredible.

        F/OSS, in general, fails miserably here. "Linpus Lite" on the EEE PCs? WTF?

        The name should not matter, but in reality, it does. Unfortunately, OSS projects seem to only accept a rebranding under threats of legal action.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by frission (676318)

        same goes for logos. I remember a friend of mine saying that he got to see the Nike sketchbook, he said the original brainstorm of "possible" logos was as thick as a bible (if the bible was printed on regular paper, not the thin paper).

        in the end, all the work for a swoosh :)

      • Re:I bet... (Score:5, Funny)

        by Logic Bomb (122875) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @05:24PM (#25726813)

        Mitch Hedberg had a bit on one of his comedy CDs about product naming. Paraphrasing: take whatever the product does and add "er."

        "What's this thing do?"

        "It keeps things fresh."

        "Then that's a fresher. I'm goin' on break."

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mfh (56)

      ...it involved a lot of pot.

      According to the article, it has to do with a lot more than smoking pot. Lexicon Branding typically uses well known and loved words, phrases and syllables, in trendy-sounding configurations [lexicon-branding.com], and I would stress that smoking pot in doing so would only help you reach that type of audience, and in most cases Lexicon's audience is much broader than that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      iPot?

      How about the "iForOneWelcomeOur...".

      On second thought - nah...

  • MSFT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mfh (56)

    While Microsoft's next OS is kind of a "Ho-hum" name, one has only to look at what happened with the most recent Windows release to understand why Microsoft might have gone back to a tried-and-true naming philosophy: Vista? Ouch. Windows 95 and XP? Those have done much better.

    Name it what you want, but the RESULT is what gives products their reputations, not the names of said products. The only saving grace of XP is how terrible Vista was received by the public, so in comparison, XP looked much better. And

    • Re:MSFT (Score:5, Funny)

      by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:41PM (#25723945) Homepage

      "If you want to keep us secure, take a page from Linux and open up your OS to public scrutiny so that people can perfect it. What are you afraid of?"

      You must be new here

      >mfh (56)

      or not

    • Re:MSFT (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Moridineas (213502) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:55PM (#25724151) Journal

      Name it what you want, but the RESULT is what gives products their reputations, not the names of said products. The only saving grace of XP is how terrible Vista was received by the public, so in comparison, XP looked much better. And how interesting this is to me because I remember how terrible XP was in the beginning.

      I think that's BS. Other than a small subset of people who were upset about activation, XP was pretty good from the get go. SP1 made it good without reservations. (and I don't mean this is a big linux vs Windows vs Mac flamefest) Most people switching to XP had been using 95/98/ME. XP--without reservation--is better than all of them. If you were coming from 2K, it was less of a jump, but still an improvement for most users (imho, I know some people debate this last point).

      • by Urza9814 (883915)

        Yea, unless you like playing games. There are just as many games that worked on ME that don't work on XP as games that worked on XP and don't on Vista. I _still_ have a PC with 98 installed, and I _still_ have VirtualBox Windows 98 images because that's the only way I can get a lot of the games I like to run. Some of them will run on Wine too, but a lot of them tend to lock up randomly.

        • Yeah, XP lost some backwards compatibility. Well, to be precise, XP GAINED backwards compatibility over its predecessor--Windows 2000--but did lack the ability to run some 95/98/ME/DOS games. I don't think that's a fair measure to say XP is worse than ME.

          I run a number of games in DOSBox, but I can't think off the top of my head of any 95/98 games that didn't work in XP. Not denying it, but what are some examples?

      • XP was pretty good from the get go.

        This system is shutting down. Please save all work in progress and log off. Any unsaved changes will be lost. This shutdown was initiated by NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Moridineas (213502)

          Yes, Blaster was a major PITA and a major worm. There have even been several since then that preyed on the same kind of vulnerabilities (Zotob and sasser spring to mind). Do you remember teardrop? That one even got linux. There were worms decades before XP, and I think it's hard to argue that the worm situation on Windows has gotten WORSE since pre-XP. Each release of windows (including Vista) has gotten better. Better is of course a relative term, but still.

    • Re:MSFT (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @03:01PM (#25724923) Journal

      Name it what you want, but the RESULT is what gives products their reputations, not the names of said products.

      Amen. And think about it... Micro-soft itself is a pretty ho-hum name, in fact it's downright lame. Today, if the company name would be still available, no one in their right mind would give their software firm a name like that, even freelancing consultants wouldn't be so silly as to pick that as their firm's name. But they rose to greatness (in influence and dollars if not reputation for quality), and thus the name lost its lameness and became associated with an extremely succesful tech company.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wild_quinine (998562)

        Amen. And think about it... Micro-soft itself is a pretty ho-hum name, in fact it's downright lame. Today, if the company name would be still available, no one in their right mind would give their software firm a name like that, even freelancing consultants wouldn't be so silly as to pick that as their firm's name. But they rose to greatness (in influence and dollars if not reputation for quality), and thus the name lost its lameness and became associated with an extremely succesful tech company.

        Perfecty expressed. And the best example of this ever?

        Drum roll.... (pun intended)

        The Beatles.

        Awful name. And now forever the name of greatness.

    • by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker&gnu,org> on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @03:01PM (#25724925) Homepage

      Who cares if we find out that you people at Microsoft haven't done any real work since 1990... we ALREADY KNOW THAT.

      Nah, their consumer OSes have seen the addition of memory protection. Beore then, Microsoft did some real doesn't-work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by residieu (577863)
      The security dialog problem is overrated. They only pop up when you'd expect them to pop up. When you're installing things or modifying system wide-settings. Mac OS and Gnome/KDE will do the same thing. The only difference is that Vista doesn't make you reenter your password, it just alerts you that something's up.
      • by BronsCon (927697)

        well, the thing of it is, in Vista, they pop up EVERY time. Any Unix or Linux I've ever used can be configured to pop up a dialog only after a certain amount of time has passed since the last dialog.

        That's great if you're configuring a new system or installing a lot of new hardware or software. Enter your password once, get it done with no hassle.

        Vista, you have to click Accept *TWICE* for every application that needs to make a change; sometimes *TWICE* for every change.

        Ubuntu on my laptops, HTPC, one serve

    • by dubl-u (51156) *

      Name it what you want, but the RESULT is what gives products their reputations, not the names of said products.

      This is true, but not totally relevant.

      Especially for new products, a name is a big part of the first impression they create. A good name can't turn crap into gold, but it can persuade people to try your product and find out whether or not it's any good. And it certainly can help make it easy for people to talk and learn about your product.

      Some products succeed based on their technical awesomeness and nothing else. Some products succeed on marketing alone, as anybody who has purchased from late-night TV or

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:40PM (#25723919)

    He says before Google, all the search engines were engineering names like WebCrawler, Webfinder, Websearcher, etc.

    Apparently he never heard of search engines like AltaVista, Yahoo!, Lycos, etc. Seriously? Names are his business and he doesn't remember any of those?

  • by Fallingcow (213461) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:40PM (#25723927) Homepage

    ... to the GIMP devs.

    • Gimp (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mfh (56) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @02:48PM (#25724795) Homepage Journal

      Quick, someone mail this article... (Score:4, Funny)

      Yes, what you said is funny, but seriously now I had to pitch using a free image suite to a customer who was kinda penny-pinching, and when I suggested that we "bring out the GIMP" the customer started laughing at me, and they became somewhat violent. I ducked the coffee she threw at me, but only after I explained (while dodging numerous other desk utensils) that GIMP stood for "GNU Image Manipulation Program" did the abuse dwindle.

      And then she said, "What the hell does a GNU have to do with anything? You people are all fucking crazy!! ARRRRRGHHHHH!!!!" And she had a coronary and passed out from too much bacon and eggs... cholesterol rich, fatty foods, apparently add up over the years.

      Why couldn't they call it something like "Expensive Looking Free Graphics Suite" so like people could present it and be cheered for mentioning the product? The customer might have invited me to join her for a cup of coffee instead of hurl the damn thing at me. Although that tends to be reduced to "ELFGS" which sounds equally as annoying.

      Let's have a name-fork of the project! I vote for the name "Rez". That way, I could say, "MRS. Customer, we have just what you need in the Rez project, a free graphics utility. I'm not sure what this GIMP project is you keep balking at, but the last guy who brought up that project is a fool. Go with our project instead and we'll use Rez. It sounds cooler."

      Of course I'm joking around a little but apart from my exaggeration, this was the level of irritation expressed by said customer in regards to the GIMP moniker.

      • by steelfood (895457)

        What's really amusing is that you got modded interesting while GP got modded funny.

      • Let's have a name-fork of the project! I vote for the name "Rez".

        Taken. [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      In general giving Open Source Apps horrible names, and odd Icons to go with it hurts the adoption of open source more then most anything else. First there is no real point except to feed RMS's ego to put G for GNU in its name. If you care what license it is then you read the license (at least the title), otherwise you will download and use it anyways. Next the name and/or the icon should help the person know what the app does. Next the name shouldn't sound like a 3rd party ripoff of a well known brand. N

    • We'll have to wake them up then, won't we?

  • Find a free domain and name your product after it.

    Hint: it'll probably be spelt strangely.

  • by OffTheLip (636691) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:45PM (#25724007)
    If the developers hail from a UNIX background there is no mystery. biff, awk, grep, sed. google and twitter seem tame by comparison.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by UnknowingFool (672806)

      If the developers hail from a UNIX background there is no mystery. biff, awk, grep, sed. google and twitter seem tame by comparison.

      At least if you say twitter and google to a girl and they won't take it the wrong way.

      awk, biff, grep, sed, emacs, du, chmod:
      I definitely see a drink thrown in my face and a slap in the future. Even from imaginary ones.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:46PM (#25724017) Homepage

    > ...free of copyright ... gotchas.

    A name cannot have any "copyright gotchas" . Names cannot be protected by copyright.

  • by B5_geek (638928)

    As we all know, if you have technology without an interesting name, you can always make an acronym.

  • Microsoft's Mike Nash announced the name this way: "Simply put, this is the seventh release of Windows, so therefore 'Windows 7' just makes sense."

    So, has anyone actually figured out exactly what the previous 6 versions of Windows were?

    • Re:Windows 7 (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tadrith (557354) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:56PM (#25724171) Homepage

      I believe it's based on the official major releases of Windows NT, since the 9x kernel was abandoned.

      1. Windows NT 3.1
      2. Windows NT 3.5
      3. Windows NT 4.0
      4. Windows 2000
      5. Windows XP
      6. Windows Vista
      7. Windows 7

      • No Windows 2003? Or is that not considered a major release of Windows NT?
        • by Tadrith (557354)

          Yeah, sorry, I should have been more clear on that...

          Windows XP == Windows 2003
          Windows Vista == Windows 2008

          In terms of the kernel, they're considered the same.

      • If you look at the kernel versions of Windows NT [wikipedia.org], you can see why. Based on what I've heard about Windows 7, it really shouldn't be named 7 but 6.1 as it wasn't really a major revision.

        That said both OS X and Windows 7 are rather unoriginal in naming. With OS X, at least they were consistent about the different versions of OS X. Windows NT 3.5 -> Windows NT 4.0 -> Windows 2000 -> Windows XP -> Windows Vista -> Windows 7. Not much consistency there.

      • It's from the kernel versions:
        (In the list below both 9x and NT included, some minor releases are missed out, and named releases have their kernel version in brackets)
        1. Windows 1
        2. Windows 2
        3. Windows 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, NT 3.1, NT 2.5 etc
        4. Windows 95 (9x 4.0), NT 4.0, etc.
        5. Windows 98 (9x 5.0), Windows Me (9x 5.1), Windows 2000 (NT 5.0), Windows XP (NT 5.1), Windows Server 2003 (NT 5.2)
        6. Windows Vista (NT 6.0), Windows Server 2008 (NT 6.0)
        7. Windows 7 (NT 6.1)

        It breaks down a little from the fact that the

  • Azure? (Score:3, Funny)

    by jejones (115979) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:52PM (#25724105) Journal

    I figured that they were tired of hearing about the BSOD, and "Azure screen of death" would at least sound nicer.

    • And the resulting acronym forms the first part of a sentence one might hear from a victim.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      It's part of their overall plan to create the "Hooloovoo screen of death", an alien invasion plot where crashing machines generate the invaders.
  • Second? Try third. (Score:4, Informative)

    by jspenguin1 (883588) <jspenguin@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:53PM (#25724123) Homepage
    Firefox was actually the third name. Its original name was Phoenix (it rose from the ashes of Netscape), but Phoenix Technologies raised a fuss. Then it became Firebird, and the Firebird database team raised a fuss. Then it became Firefox, and Debian didn't like that and called it IceWeasel. Anyone remember the FireSomething plugin that would randomly change the name.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @02:16PM (#25724395) Journal

    A couple decades back there was a German man with his own branding/naming company. A Japanese company, not satisfied with their experience for English speaking markets, called him up and asked him to help out with a new car. Naturally, he inquired as to the project timeline, due dates etc.

    Nervously, the Japanese marketer replied that they needed something for the following Monday.

    After a few moments pause, the German replied "Dat Soon? eh?"

    Later that same year he took a trip to London on business. While eating at a local steakhouse, he asked "what's dis here sauce?"

  • TEN pages?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NorQue (1000887) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @02:22PM (#25724481)
    WTF? No way I'm clicking through that. Not even a fig leaf "print this article"-link there. And for what? A huge picture and three lines of text? Abominable.
    • by residieu (577863)
      For the most part, the stories aren't even that interesting. Wikipedia... that one's obvious. Windows and Mac OS, the 7th and 10th release. Android... well they bought a company called Android, no discussion of where THEY picked the name. Thinkpad, it just sounded good... Only mildly interesting one was the iPod.
  • I thought the Thinkpad was named after IBM decades old corporate slogan, which is THINK [ibm.com].

  • by sorak (246725)

    I am surprised that Red Hat had nothing to do with White Hat and Black Hat Hackers...I always assumed Red Hat was an option C; Not necessarily good, and not necessarily evil.

  • What I wanna know is why the idiot(s) who came up with this stinker of a name - Pacific Telesis Group - for Pacific Bell's holding company were able to not only keep their jobs but make out like bandits, to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars. That, of course, does not include the expense of re-signing the corporate vehicle fleet, changing stationery, and the like. Guess who got to foot the whole bill? (Forget about GOVERNMENT taxes: we're being "taxed" far worse as consumers by corporate exc

  • by SageinaRage (966293) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @03:12PM (#25725091)
    even considering the subject matter. It covers that wikipedia is wiki + encyclopedia, but offers nothing on how wikis got their name (a hawaiian bus system), it just says that android was made by a company named Android, and says that OSX is the 10th mac os, without even bothering to look into the cat names at all. The only one with an actual interesting answer was Red Hat.
  • by The Cisco Kid (31490) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @03:23PM (#25725253)

    get online news websites to understand how the scrollbars work in a web browser, instead of breaking one 'page' into a dozen small ones that, instead of the whole article loading at once, and then being able to scroll smoothly, instead of having to click next, next, next, and have frustrating pauses while trying to read.

    After I read the first 'bit' and realized Id have to click, wait, click, wait to read the rest, I just closed the tab instead of bothering.

    Occasionally on sites like that there is a 'printable version' that gives the whole article as one, but lately it seems to just give a 'printable version' of that one bit of the story. /. editors - lets not encourage these sites by linking to them and giving them the ad traffic.

  • Third time's a charm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Byron II (671689) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @03:46PM (#25725581)
    The article says that Firefox was the browser's second name, but during development Firebird was known as Phoenix. I forget what the reason for the first change was, but they're definitely on their third name.
  • by jasmak (1007287) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @04:52PM (#25726429)
    My grandfather was involved in the naming of both of these rather large Japanese companies as a VP when they were trying to cross over to the U.S. and I have heard the stories hundreds of times so I figured this is a good venue to share them.

    Panasonic (Originally Matsushita) actually got the name of their company from a review of one of their speaker systems. The article said that they had great "all around sound." All around translates to pana and sound translates to sound.

    Epson (Originally Seiko) made a small printer named the EP-101 which was the worlds first compact, lightweight digital printer. My grandfather found large demand in it in the U.S. so they needed to create a new name to use(Seiko is a watch corp in the US). He told them the story about how Panasonic came about the name and left on a flight back stateside.

    When he got back, he had a message waiting already and they told him that they were naming it Epson. He told them that is a horrible idea because people would confuse it with epsom salt. They told him it was his fault because it was his idea and explained that they were naming it based on their first product sale like panasonic did. So the name comes from "son of EP" to the more consumer friendly Epson.

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