As a startup, when coming up with Siri's name, we wanted something that was easy to remember, short to type, comfortable to pronounce, and a not-too-common human name. And we wanted to be able to get the domain name for not too much money.
Once Siri became the leading candidate, everyone on the team had their own favorite explanation of the meaning. Dag Kittlaus, our Norwegian-American CEO, once considered using Siri as the name of his child, and liked the Norse meaning: "beautiful woman who leads you to victory."
For me, Siri, which means "secret" in Swahili, was a tip of the hat to our pre-named days when we began as stealth-company.com. I also liked the fact that it was the reverse of Iris, a software system I helped build as part of the CALO project, which Siri spun out of. Some liked the resemblance to SRI, which was the research institute that ran the CALO project.
We knew that Siri [meant] "beauty" in Sinhalese, but missed that SHIRI [meant] "butt" in Japanese (they're not the same word, but the pronunciations are close).
And it was all a big surprise that Apple decided to keep the original Siri name for its launch as part of iOS. There were other candidates that were leading up until the final weeks.
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