How Famous Tech Products Got Their Names

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAround 38o, Plato wrote in book 2 of the Republic: “…the creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.” Over the centuries that sentence has morphed into the modern proverb that everyone recognizes: necessity is the mother of all invention. And in the competitive world of tech products, that proverb is something that all engineers and product designers fully embrace. But designing and building a great tech product is only half the battle — that product also requires a great name. In this endeavor, once again, necessity of a cool, catchy product name is the mother of all creation. Many times, the names were developed in-house at no cost; otherwise fees for a product name can command up to $1 million or more. Here are how some famous tech products got their names.

iPod: In 2001, Apple hired freelance copywriter Vinnie Chieco to come up with a name for their MP3 player, which they described as a hub to other gadgets. He brainstormed all kinds of ideas involving hubs, but came back to the central element in Stanley Kubrick’s dazzling, groundbreaking film, 2001: A Space Odyssey — a spaceship. In particular, Chieco recalled one of the most famous lines in the movie. In the 1968 film, as the spacecraft, Discovery One, is headed to a secret mission to Jupiter, the computer that runs the ship, the HAL 9000, begins killing off the ship’s crew. The lead astronaut, David Bowman, climbs into a space pod and leaves the ship to retrieve the body of his colleague, Frank Poole. As he returns to Discovery One, Bowman instructs HAL to open the ship’s outer door: “Open the pod bay door, HAL.” And HAL devilishly responds, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that… This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.” So we can thank Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke for coming up with the concept or space pods. Finally, Chieco added the “i” to the beginning of the name to link it phonetically with the pre-existing iMac computer.

Blackberry: In 2001, Research in Motion hired the naming company, Lexicon Branding, to develop the name for it wireless email device. Someone on the team noted that the small keys looked like seeds. So they explored names of fruits with seeds. They found that blackberry (the black describes the color of the device) tested positively among consumers.

Twitter: In 2006, cofounder Biz Stone remarked that users sending short communications (initially 140 characters) to one another was like birds chirping to one another: “Short [trivial] bursts of communication… everyone is chirping, having a good time.” That led to “twttr” that morphed to “twitter.” The word twitter was used as early as 1374 by Chaucer to refer to the sound of a bird chirping. There is another form of twitter, that emerged in 1530, that is the form of the verb twit, which means to tattle-tale; thus someone who tattle-tales, is a twitter.

Kindle: In 2005, Amazon hired Michael Cronan, a Bay Area graphic designer, to name their e-reader. His wife and partner, Karen Hibm, elaborates: “Michael came up with the name through our usual practice of exploring the depths of what the potential for the new product and product line could be and how the company wanted to present it. Jeff [Bezos, the CEO] wanted to talk about the future of reading, but in a small, not braggadocio way. We didn’t want it to be ‘techie’ or trite, and we wanted it to be memorable, and meaningful in many ways of expression, from ‘I love curling up with my Kindle to read a new book’ to ‘When I’m stuck in the airport or on line, I can Kindle my newspaper, favorite blogs or half a dozen books I’m reading.’” The word Kindle, derived from the Scandinavian word, kynda, means “to set fire to,” or derived from the Middle English word, kindel, which means “to give brith, or bring forth.” Hibma continues: “I verified that it had deep roots in literature. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all.”

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