How 14 Major Tech Companies Got Their Names

Published On 02/18/2015 Published On 02/18/2015

It goes generally unnoticed to the public, but for a tech company, the first real sign of ingenuity lies in its moniker. Whether catchy, figurative, or just something memorable to type in the search bar, many of Silicon Valley’s biggest players programmed themselves to adopt such naming conventions for the sake of instant notoriety. Others got creative with anagrams and misnomers, and the rest is history.

No matter which side of the spectrum they landed on, every company has meaning behind its name. Having researched some of today’s most popular ones, we discovered the fascinating origin stories behind 14 of tech's biggest names.


1. Apple

Would you believe a trip to an apple orchard influenced Steve Jobs’ decision in naming the company? Or the fact that Apple just sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating” and would list them higher than Atari in the phonebook? The man did say simplicity was one of his mantras.


2. Nintendo

The house that Mario built flipped the company’s Japanese name, nintendou, to coin a transliteration that signified the Chinese characters “submit” and “heaven.” Put it in Layman’s terms, Nintendo means to work hard and let God sort out everything.


3. Etsy

The online crafts marketplace tried to use a “complicated name-generating script” that never worked. Rather than fix the kinks, they ran with the program’s codename, Etsy, and told the media it was an interpretation of the Italian (“oh yes”) and Latin (“and if”) sayings.


4. Spotify

Sometimes it pays to not listen carefully. Take it from the makers of the music-streaming service, who’ve claimed the Spotify name, apparently derived from “spot” and “identity,” was something they misheard from one another when shouting from across opposite sides of a flat.


5. Microsoft

Contrary to popular belief, it was Paul Allen, and not Bill Gates, who came up with the name for their billion-dollar PC dynasty. He found inspiration from the creation of MICROprocessors and saw the future of computers in SOFTware, therefore leading to the blend of terms.


6. Instagram

Seeking a title that personified the belief of “right here, right now,” the geniuses behind Instagram merged the terms “instant camera” and “telegram” to play off the app’s speedy interaction. Even more interesting is how it took them a week and half to think of something so transparent it could be recognized and “spellable” for bar crowds.


7. Sony

Combine the Latin term for sound (‘sonus’) with the American slang for bright youngster (‘sonny’) and there goes the moniker for a billion-dollar electronics business. Founder Akio Morita believed ‘Sony’ was a way of letting the public know they “were sonny boys working in sound and vision” in the industry at the time, while also proposing its easy pronunciation in all languages factored into the naming decision.


8. Google

Call it a game of chance or lack of autocorrect, but the world’s largest search engine earned its moniker after an accidental typo of the word “googol.” We’ll spare you from Googling the definition since CEO Larry Page already claimed he intended the company alias to signify the mass amount of info it’s made available online.


9. Reddit

The self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet” can thank a visit to the University of Virginia library for its namesake. But more than just play on phrases (“I read it online”) or modern lingo, Reddit descends from the Latin meaning of “render”: a submission for approval or consideration.


10. Hulu

Our favorite in-bed addiction took its name from the Mandarin language and was chosen from a whiteboard wall flooded with different options. Ironically, the term bears multiple meanings, one of them being interactive recording.


11. Airbnb

At a time when co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia struggled to make it as designers, the duo began renting out their place and transformed it into a bed and breakfast with three airbeds. They built a web site dubbed “Air Bed and Breakfast” and moved forward with their startup, later shortening the title upon expansion.


12. Pandora

So where exactly does the correlation exist between the first female created by the gods and Internet radio? Well, in stumbling upon the name “scribbled on the back of a Billboard magazine,” the team put its own symbolic twist to the Greek mythological legend, claiming its service celebrates the virtue of gifting musically curious listeners.  


13. Twitter

Fun fact: the social network was once considered to take on the Twitch handle. Former CEO Jack Dorsey wasn’t sold on it, so he had the team pick ‘Twitter’ from a hat and agreed its dual-meaning of bird chirping and chattering described the service best.


14. Samsung

Samsung patriarch Lee Byung-chull branded his consumer electronics empire after the Korean kanja term to suggest its “three stars” meaning foreshadowed something “big, numerous, and powerful.” This has Galaxy S6 ad written all over it.

Alex Bracetti is a contributor to, Complex, HOOP, Man of Many, and several other popular lifestyle outlets. Follow him on Twitter @AlexBracetti.



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