The Hidden Meanings Behind 15 Company Names
We spend most of our day surrounded by popular companies and major brands, but have you ever wondered what their names actually mean? Here are the hidden meanings behind 15 of them.
In 2006, co-founder Jack Dorsey created Twitter as an online SMS service that would update in real-time on a webpage. Its working name was called “Status,” but Dorsey wanted to create a buzzing feeling when you heard the company’s name, so he later thought of “Twitch” because that’s what a phone would do when it would vibrate. However, Dorsey eventually landed on “Twitter” because he didn’t think “Twitch” was a strong enough name.
“We wanted to capture that feeling: the physical sensation that you’re buzzing your friend’s pocket,” Dorsey told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s like buzzing all over the world. So we did a bunch of name-storming, and we came up with the word ‘twitch,’ because the phone kind of vibrates when it moves. But ‘twitch’ is not a good product name because it doesn’t bring up the right imagery. So we looked in the dictionary for words around it, and we came across the word ‘twitter,’ and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds.’ And that’s exactly what the product was.”
First released in 2003, Skype is derived from "Sky peer-to-peer,” as in a way to connect people together from the “sky” wirelessly. It was then shortened to "Skyper." However, Skyper.com was already a registered domain, so its developers simply dropped the “r” at the end to become Skype.
Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, Inc. as a way to connect Harvard University students online in 2004. The company’s name comes from the physical “face book” directories of students’ faces and names given throughout university campuses in the United States.
Originally, it was called TheFacebook.com, but Zuckerberg dropped the “The” at the beginning of the company’s name a year later. Now TheFacebook.com simply re-directs users to Facebook.com. When asked what he would do differently during an interview with TechCrunch, Zuckerberg answered, “I’d get the right domain name.”
Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen established the name LEGO in 1934 for his manufacturing company, which originally produced stepladders, ironing boards, stools, and wooden toys. The name comes from the Danish phrase "Leg Godt," which means “Play Well” in English and "I Put Together" or "I Assemble" in Latin. LEGO didn’t create the colorful interlocking plastic bricks that the company is known for until 1949.
Starting in 1994 and originally named “Cadabra,” as in "abracadabra," founder Jeff Bezos re-named his retail company Amazon a year later after his lawyer mistook it for "cadaver." Bezos landed on Amazon because it’s the name of the largest river in the world and he wanted his company to reflect its size with the launch tagline "Earth's biggest bookstore" in 1995. He also liked the name because it would be first in web listings, which were in alphabetical order at the time. Jeff Bezos also considered the name Relentless.com, which he still owns, but re-directs to Amazon.com instead.
In addition, Amazon’s logo also reflected the company by selling everything from A to Z.
Established in 1971, Starbucks founders Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker landed on the company’s name after Bowker’s business partner mentioned words beginning with the letters “ST” were powerful and bold. He then noticed the small mining town of “Starbo” on an old mining map of the Cascade Range. Bowker, who is also a writer, later remembered the name of Captain Ahab's first mate in Moby-Dick was “Starbuck” and believed that was a much stronger name. They also believed Starbuck loved coffee, but he doesn’t actually drink coffee in the book. He drinks it in the film adaptation.
“I saw Starbo, I, of course, jumped to Melville's first mate [named Starbuck] in Moby-Dick,” Gordon Bowker told The Seattle Times. “But Moby-Dick didn't have anything to do with Starbucks directly; it was only coincidental that the sound seemed to make sense. A lot of times you'll see references to the coffee-loving first mate of the Pequod. And then somebody said to me, well no, it wasn't that he loved coffee in the book, it was that he loved coffee in the movie."
The Starbucks founders also considered the names "Cargo House" and "Pequod," the name of Captain Ahab’s ship.
Founded in 1927 and originally called “Tote'm Stores”—because customers toted away their groceries—7-Eleven changed its name to reflect its new business hours in 1946. The convenience store chain was open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., which was considered extended hours during the '40s. Now most 7-Eleven stores are open 24 hours a day, with the first store to do so in Austin, Texas in 1963.
Although many people believe it was named after The Beatles’s record label, Apple Corps Ltd, because its co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were big fans of the British rock band, Apple, Inc. was actually named after an apple farm the pair visited in Oregon. Jobs liked the name Apple because it was “fun, spirited and not intimidating.”
“It was a couple of weeks later when we came up with a name for the partnership,” recalled Wozniak. “I remember I was driving Steve Jobs back from the airport along Highway 85. Steve was coming back from a visit to Oregon to a place he called an 'apple orchard.' It was actually some kind of commune. Steve suggested a name – Apple Computer. The first comment out of my mouth was, 'What about Apple Records?' This was (and still is) the Beatles-owned record label. We both tried to come up with technical-sounding names that were better, but we couldn’t think of any good ones. Apple was so much better, better than any other name we could think of.”
Although it’s not actually a Danish phrase or word, ice cream man Reuben Mattus called his company Häagen-Dazs as a tribute to Denmark's respect and good treatment of Jewish people during World War II.
“The only country which saved the Jews during World War II was Denmark, so I put together a totally fictitious Danish name and had it registered,” said Mattus. “Häagen-Dazs doesn’t mean anything. [But] it would attract attention, especially with the umlaut.”
In 1938, founder Lee Byung-chull named his company Samsung because it means “Three Stars” or “Tristar” in Korean. He wanted his company to last forever like stars in the sky, while the number three represents something big, powerful, and bright in Korean culture.
Seventeen-year-old businessman Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943. The furniture company’s name is actually an acronym for Ingvar Kamprad’s name and his childhood farm and hometown in Sweden, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd.
Founded in 1996 and originally called “BackRub,” the internet giant Google received its name when co-founder Larry Page misspelled the number “Googol,” which is a digit followed by 100 zeros. Page and co-founder Sergey Brin decided to keep the name because the domain name was available. “It turns out that most people misspell some things,” said Page, which is why Google corrects spelling mistakes for all searches.
13. PANERA BREAD
In 1987, Ken Rosenthal started the St. Louis Bread Company in Kirkwood, Missouri. As it grew and expanded into other states, the name changed to Panera Bread when bakery and café chain Au Bon Pain bought it in 1997. The company’s name is made up of two words, “Pane” (Italian for Bread) and “Era” (or Time). It’s also Latin for “breadbasket.” “We wanted a name that was an empty vessel we could put personality into, and that’s how we ended up with Panera,” said co-founder Ron Shaich.
14. SIX FLAGS
The amusement park chain is named after its first location, Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. The six flags refers to the six different regions that governed the Lone Star State: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America. [Note: In 2017, the company stopped flying the actual Confederate flag.] Today, Six Flags operates 20 theme parks and water parks throughout North America.
15. GAP, INC.
In 1969, Donald and Doris F. Fisher opened the first Gap retail store in San Francisco, California. The store mainly sold Levi's jeans and vinyl records that were targeted to teenagers and young adults, so the Fishers named their store after the generation gap between younger and older people.