News >> Browse Articles >> Culture/Entertainment


The Story Behind Companies' Quirky Names

The Story Behind Companies' Quirky Names

Courtesy of Creative Commons: Carlos Luna's photostream

Molly Mann | Divine Caroline

September 01, 2010

Opening my Internet browser the other day, I wondered why search engines have such unusual names: Google? Yahoo? Who comes up with this stuff? And it’s not just search engines, either.

There are plenty of well-known corporations whose names are head-scratchers as well: Apple, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi-Cola, to name a few. How did these household monikers come to be?

Google Doesn’t Need a BackRub

Helium’s Caitlyn Carlson reports that the most popular search engine today, whose name has become a verb entered in most modern dictionaries, was originally called BackRub at its birth in 1995, because of its ability to comb the back lines to find a Web site. But founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted a new name that reflected their common goal for the search engine. “Google” originates from the word “googol,” the mathematical term for the numeral one followed by a hundred zeroes. Page and Brin wanted to advertise that a user could acquire a googol of hits for each search, so they went with Google, which also happens to be much catchier than BackRub.

I’m so glad. I mean, I can’t really imagine “BackRubbing” a book title or restaurant address.


In a CBS interview with Eyewitness News coanchor Ken Bastida, Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang explained that his company’s name is an acronym for “yet another hierarchical officious oracle.”

Yang started Yahoo in 1994 with fellow Stanford graduate student David Filo. Yang and Filo would jokingly refer to themselves as “yahoos,” a term that Jonathan Swift first used in his book Gulliver’s Travels to denote a lowly person with a repulsive appearance.

“Yahoo!” is also a common expression of joy in the western and southern United States, a usage that has become the theme of Yahoo commercials that end with one of the actors singing, “Yahoo-oo!”

An Apple a Day

In their book Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer, authors Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine include CEO Steve Jobs’s explanation of Apple Inc.’s naming: “I was actually a fruitarian at that point in time,” says Jobs. “I ate only fruit. Now I’m a garbage can like everyone else. And we were about three months late in filing a fictitious business name, so I threatened to call the company Apple Computer unless someone suggested a more interesting name by five o’clock that day. Hoping to stimulate creativity. And it stuck. And that’s why we’re called Apple.”

I wonder what the company name would be today if Jobs had been a vegetarian back in 1976: Bok Choy, Inc.?

Next Page: Always Coca-Cola →

Find the right campus or online art or design program for you!