The Hidden Meanings Behind 15 Company Names

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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.

1. TWITTER

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.”

2. SKYPE

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.

3. FACEBOOK

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.”

4. LEGO

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. 

5. AMAZON

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.

6. STARBUCKS

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.

7. 7-ELEVEN

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.

8. APPLE

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.”

9. HÄAGEN-DAZS

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.”

10. SAMSUNG

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.

11. IKEA

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.

12. GOOGLE

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.

5 Wild Facts About Mall Madness

Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The mall, home of fashion brands, bookstores, and anchor locations like Sears, was a must-visit location for Americans in the 1980s and 1990s—and especially for teenagers. Teens also played Mall Madness, a board game from Milton Bradley introduced in 1988 that tried to capture the excitement of soft pretzels and high-interest credit card shopping in one convenient tabletop game. Navigating a two-story shopping mall, the player who successfully spends all of their disposable income to acquire six items from the shopping list and return to the parking lot wins.

If you’re nostalgic for this simulated spending spree, you're in luck: Hasbro will be bringing Mall Madness back in fall 2020. Until then, check out some facts about the game’s origins.

1. Mall Madness was the subject of a little controversy.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley put a focus on the tween demographic. Their Dream Phone tasked young players with finding the boy of their dreams; Mall Madness, which began as an analog game but quickly added an electronic voice component, served to portray tweens as frenzied shoppers. As a result, the game drew some criticism upon release for its objective—to spend as much money as possible—and for ostensibly portraying the tweens playing as “bargain-crazy, credit-happy fashion plates,” according to Adweek. Milton Bradley public relations manager Mark Morris argued that the game taught players “how to judiciously spend their money.”

2. The original Mall Madness may not be the same one you remember.

The electronic version of Mall Madness remains the most well-known version of the game, but Milton Bradley introduced a miniature version in 1988 that was portable and took the form of an audio cassette. With the game board folded in the case, it looks like a music tape. Opened, the tri-fold board resembles the original without the three-dimensional plastic mall pieces. It was one of six games the company promoted in the cassette packaging that year.

3. Mall Madness was not the only shopping game on the market.

At the same time Mall Madness was gaining in popularity, consumers could choose from two other shopping-themed board games: Let’s Go Shopping from the Pressman Toy Corporation and Meet Me At the Mall from Tyco. Let’s Go Shopping tasks girls with completing a fashion outfit, while Meet Me At the Mall rewards the player who amasses the most items before the mall closes.

4. There was a Hannah Montana version of Mall Madness.

In the midst of Hannah Montana madness in 2008, Hasbro—which acquired Milton Bradley—released a Miley Cyrus-themed version of the game. Players control fictional Disney Channel singing sensation Hannah Montana as she shops for items. There was also A Littlest Pet Shop version of the game, with the tokens reimagined as animals.

5. Mall Madness is a collector’s item.

Because, for the moment, Hasbro no longer produces Mall Madness, a jolt of nostalgia will cost you a few dollars. The game, which originally sold for $30, can fetch $70 or more on eBay and other secondhand sites.

10 'Nuts' That Aren't Actually Nuts

None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
None of these "nuts" are truly nuts.
margouillatphotos/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Who doesn’t love a pedantic houseguest? Next time you’re at a dinner party and someone breaks out the mixed nuts, seize the moment and let everyone know that a lot of the tasty treats we call nuts don’t actually merit the title. Botanists define a “nut” as a dry, one-seeded fruit encased in a hardened ovary wall (called a pericarp). Genuine nuts are fused to their shells and won’t naturally break open upon reaching maturity. Hazelnuts fit the criteria. So do chestnuts. But these ever-popular snack foods sure don’t.

1. Peanuts

The star ingredient of America's favorite nut butter isn't actually a nut. Instead, peanuts are considered legumes, along with soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas. Unlike nuts, most legumes come in self-opening pods—which may or may not grow underground, depending on the species. 

2. Almonds

A group of almonds in wood bowl atop a rustic table
These almonds formed inside a fleshy fruit.
onairjiw/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Almonds are seeds found within the fleshy, peach-like fruits of the Asian Prunus dulcis tree. They’ve earned a spot on our list because actual nuts don’t come wrapped up in softened fruit matter. So how do botanists classify almonds? As drupe seeds. Briefly stated, a drupe is a soft fruit with a hard inner shell. (Think peach pits.)

3. Cashews

Like almonds, cashews are drupe seeds pulled from soft fruit packages. The trail mix staples poke out of red, yellow, or green “cashew apples” that grow on South American trees. Cashew seeds are naturally protected by a toxin-coated outer shell that's roasted to neutralize the acid. In spite of this defense mechanism, the yummy snacks were soon embraced by Portuguese explorers and distributed across the globe.

4. Walnuts

A squirrel eating walnuts in a park
The walnuts this squirrel is noshing on are drupes, not nuts.
Serhii Ivashchuk/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Hey look, it’s another member of the drupe clan! Walnuts inhabit green fruit on temperate trees in the genus Juglans. Most of the seeds that end up on American dining room tables come from the English walnut tree, Juglans regia [PDF]. Even if you don’t eat the drupes, you can probably find a use for them: Walnut shells have been incorporated into everything from cosmetic products to kitty litter.

5. Pine nuts

About 20 pine tree species—including the Italian stone pine—produce big seeds that get harvested en masse. Those seeds are removed from cones in a meticulous process, which accounts for their high selling prices.

5. Brazil Nuts

You’ll encounter Brazil nuts all over the Amazon rainforest, in such countries as Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and (of course) Brazil. They come from a hardened 4-to-6-pound pod containing up to two dozen seeds that might become trees someday. The pods are so hefty, getting bonked on the head by a falling one is enough to stun or even kill you.  Surprisingly, Brazil Nuts can also be fairly radioactive thanks to the trees' roots, which grow deep within radium-rich soil.

7. Macadamia Nuts

Rows of trees at an Australian Macadamia orchard
An Australian macadamia orchard filled with the country's native drupe.
oxime/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Gympie, Queensland, has an odd claim to fame: Approximately 70 percent of all the macadamia nuts on Earth are descended from trees grown in the Australian town. Macadamias are an ecological staple in Queensland and New South Wales. But—stop us if this sounds familiar—their so-called “nuts” are drupes.

8. Pistachios

Not only are pistachios drupes, but they’ve got shells that automatically open with a literal popping noise once the contents reach a certain size. When all’s said and done, though, at least pistachios are Frank Drebin-approved.

9. Pecans

The Algonquian term for “nut that requires a stone to crack” gave us the English word pecan. Wild pecans can be gathered in Mexico and the United States—they’re true North American treasures. Name origin aside, they can’t accurately be called nuts. Botanists usually refer to them as drupes, but because of their tough shells, the label “drupaceous nuts” might be more appropriate. Either way, pecans aren’t true nuts. They make for great pies, though.

10. Coconuts

A monkey sticks out its tongue while eating a coconut
This cheeky monkey seems to be enjoying its delicious drupe.
Volga2012/iStock via Getty Images Plus

A drupe of unusual size, the coconut is a fibrous juggernaut that bears a single seed. The whitish fleshy interior can be immersed in hot water and then rung out through a cloth to produce coconut milk. Meanwhile, the outer shells are responsible for some of the most delightfully bizarre Guinness World Records categories, such as “most green coconuts smashed with the head in one minute.” (You can see other unusual Guinness World Record categories here.)

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