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. [Note: In 2017, the company stopped flying the actual Confederate flag.] 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.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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