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.?
Coca-Cola was invented in 1885 by a pharmacist named John Pemberton, who intended his product to become a cure for headaches and fatigue.
The three key ingredients in the original Coca-Cola were cocaine (coca), caffeine (cola), and carbonated water. (In the late 1800s, the idea that carbonated or mineral water had healing properties was a popular belief.)
According to Evita Ochel of EvolvingWellness.com, the cocaine in Coca-Cola was banned by the early 1900s, but the company kept the name. Coca-Cola is now a major corporation with a portfolio of more than 3,300 beverages.
Say Pepsi, Please
Pepsi-Cola is another soft drink with an interesting story behind its name. Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist and drugstore owner in New Bern, North Carolina, invented Pepsi in 1898, according to PepsiCo, Inc.
During the hot summer, Bradham began experimenting with combinations of spices, juices, and syrups in his search for a refreshing new drink to serve his customers. His final creation was a unique mix of carbonated water, sugar, vanilla, rare oils, pepsin, and kola nut extract; it became so popular that his customers named it Brad’s Drink. Bradham, however, noticed that sales were growing and decided to form a company to market his beverage. He bought the trade name Pep Cola for $100 from a competitor in Newark, New Jersey, that had gone broke, and registered his own trademark, Pepsi-Cola, in 1903.
Initially, Bradham mixed the syrup himself and sold his drink exclusively through soda fountains, but he soon realized that he would do better to bottle Pepsi and allow his customers to drink it anywhere.
Bradham lost his company after gambling on the fluctuations of sugar prices during World War I. He had believed that prices would rise, but when they fell instead, they left him with an overpriced sugar inventory, and Pepsi-Cola went bankrupt in 1923. Then, in 1931, the Loft Candy Company bought Pepsi-Cola, and Loft president Charles G. Guth reformulated the drink, reviving the brand and beginning years of rivalry with competitor Coca-Cola.
The Name Game
Have the names of these companies determined their successes? I suppose there are more important things than a brand, but sipping a Brad’s Drink while BackRubbing on my Bok Choy doesn’t quite trip off the tongue as easily as having a Pepsi while Googling on my Apple.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons