5 Companies With Surprising Name Origins That Will Make You Wonder What Could Have Been
What's in a name? A lot of weird back history, if today's biggest corporations are any indication. Over the years, a number of trailblazers and genius problem solvers have founded ventures that have become more than just recognizable — many of those businesses, in fact, have become celebrities of their own. But from search engine behemoth Google to go-to social media app Twitter, at least a few of those successful companies got their names from some surprising sources.
Take online retail giant Amazon, for example. According to journalist and author Brad Stone, who penned the book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon in 2013, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos nearly called his pet company "Relentless.com". Go ahead, shudder at that possibility with me.
"Friends suggested that it sounded a bit sinister," explained Stone, in the book. "But something about it must have captivated Bezos, [because] he registered the URL in September of 1994, and he kept it." Bezos refused to give it up — type "relentless.com" into your browser bar today, and it will still take you straight to Amazon's main page. Eventually, Bezos settled on the name "Amazon" as a reference to the site's massive scale, but the story hung around workplace watercoolers for years.
Amazon isn't the only company with strange beginnings either — just check out the bizarre foundations of some of today's other recognizable names.
No, "Google" isn't just a weird name someone made up after having too many glasses of wine, it's a real thing — sort of. According to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the original monkier for the monstrous search engine (now a part of the overarching Alphabet parent company) was actually BackRub. Thankfully, the unintentionally creepy title went away fast, and in 1997, Page and Brin registered the company domain google.com, a "play on the word 'googol,' a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros," according to its founders.
"[The name Google] reflects Larry and Sergey's mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web," the company explains on its "history" page.
It's okay if you don't know what 3M actually stands for, because no one outside of Wall Street has called it that in a very long time. According to The New York Times, stock brokers and market traders were still referring to the multinational conglomerate by its official title, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, as recently as 2002, at which point the company decided to change its name to the more commonly recognized title, the 3M Company.
Based out of St. Paul, 3M had roots in the mining business and had originally sought to sell the mineral corundum to wheel-makers before giving up on the failed venture, and "turn[ing] to other materials and other products, building up sales little by little" to become the market giant it is today. The company, which now produces Scotch tape, Post-It notes, and a bevy of other random items, finally made the appropriate name change after a particularly successful market quarter in 2002 — and it's a good thing they did. Face it — there's probably no way they'd be able to fit "Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing" on the tape dispensers.
By now, most people have at least heard some rendition of the fabled Starbucks name story, but they probably haven't heard the best part. Founded in 1971 by two teachers and a writer, the coffee giant began humbly as one tiny store in the historic Seattle Pike Place Market, selling freshly roasted beans, teas, and spices to its customers. Before settling on "Starbucks", the name of the first mate on the fictional whaling ship in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, co-founder and writer Gordon Bowke suggested the name "Pequod," after the ship itself. Not surprisingly, that didn't go over to well with the company's creative partner.
"No one's going to want to drink a cup of 'Pee-quod,'" Terry Heckler, who designed the iconic two-tailed siren logo, is alleged to have joked in response to the suggestion. Thank god they listened to him.
IBM is basically the one-up to win all one-ups. Originally founded in 1911 after the consolidation of four separate entities into one parent company, Computer Tabulating Recording Company (CTR), the organization was later rearranged under the management of Thomas Watson Sr. in 1914 and became one of the nation's most recognized providers of machines like cash registers, punch card devices, typewriters, and later, some of the very first Lasik devices and personal computers.
In 1924, Watson decided to change the name of the company to International Business Machines (IBM), in order to accommodate the organization's growing list of successful tech ventures — although it was rumored that the title was actually more of a flippant jab at Watson's former employers, National Cash Register (NCR), with whom he had parted on terrible terms years earlier. Although NCR still exists today, it's still not the household name that Watson's baby, IBM, has grown up to become. If that's not the best sort of revenge, I'm not sure what is.
Brace yourselves, because the ever-buzzing social media platform we know today as Twitter was once nearly the most boring company ever. According to founder Jack Dorsey, who spoke with The Los Angeles Times in 2009, the platform's original working title was — wait for it — "Status." YAWN.
Of course, it didn't stick, and neither did a few other terrible names brainstormed by the founding team. Explained Dorsey,
... 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."
Let's all take a second to applaud Merriam-Webster, or whichever reference company provided a dictionary to the founders of Twitter. Can you imagine having to actually use the phrase, "Donald Trump twitched on Saturday night"?
Images: Norio Nakayama/Flickr