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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. 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.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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