Inventors tend to seize the opportunity to name their creations after themselves in a bid for immortality, but there aren’t any rules beyond that. Does it help if the name gives a hint about what the tech does? Sure. But reading about how famous tech products got their names is a lot more interesting when there’s a great backstory.
If you guessed “Old Church Slavonic word meaning ‘servitude of forced labor’ and popularized by a 1920 hit play,” you’re right. When playwright Karel Capek needed a name for a story about mass-produced slaves who couldn’t experience love, he took his inspiration from the tradition of serfdom in Central Europe. Theatergoers packed into seats to see “R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots.”
This wonder fiber is common now, but in 1938 when the DuPont company had to name it, they were stumped. It just could be used in too many ways: women’s stockings, World War II parachutes, ropes—and nylon had endless potential. A committee came up with 400 suggestions, including Silkex, Delawear, and Duparooh (which stood for “DuPont Pulls A Rabbit Out of The Hat”). The true story is still a little vague. Nylon may have evolved out of “Norun,” to emphasize that its fabric wouldn’t run with tears. It may have been concocted by two chemists on an international flight as a combination of “New York” and “London.” Today nylon would be even more difficult to name. It’s in carpet, toothbrushes, medical equipment, and cars—so we can’t say we’d do any better.
We can thank a 10th-century king for the name of Bluetooth headsets. You’ll remember from history class that Danish King Harald Blatand became a legend for uniting the warring factions in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The developers of Bluetooth wanted to convey that their invention could connect all kinds of technology, from cars to computers and mobile phones. Still with us? If you translate the king’s last name, “Blatand,” it becomes “Bluetooth” in English.
Your guess is as good as ours. Steve Jobs had an inscrutable mystique about him that gave rise to a lot of theories about the name “Apple.” Some say that Jobs wanted a warm, happy name that would set his computers apart from the cold, soulless names of other brands. One anecdote suggests that Jobs, impatient with his team’s suggestions, threatened to just call it Apple if they didn’t come up with something better by 5 p.m. Steve Wozniak says Jobs was fresh from a job at an apple orchard, and that he only agreed because he loved the Beatles’s Apple Records label. Jobs himself once claimed he was inspired by his “fruitarian diet,” but we really hope not. This might not be the worst explanation for how a famous tech product got its name, but it’s got to be close.
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