What’s In a Name?

I was reviewing a recent post from my colleague, Kassie, about some fading trends. It got me to thinking about this ongoing trend in odd-sounding online company names.

Let’s start with the ubiquitous “Facebook.” The original name for this plucky social media startup was “The Facebook” as coined by founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 as an online directory for Harvard Students. According to Speeli (an actual website with that actual name), “A Facebook is (a) collection of names and photos of people distributed in American universities.” The name was eventually shortened.

As we know, Facebook has since faded into obscurity and never had a movie made about it, meanwhile, Zuckerberg is now working as a low-paid temp in suburban Ohio performing light clerical duties. Ha! Just kidding about the world’s most popular social network (please don’t delete my account, Mr. Zuckerberg).

So there is a rhyme and reason behind the name, even if it’s a bit obscure. Facebook, we’ll give you a pass.

Moving onto “Google.” A Googol, as you may or may not recall, is a numeral representing a 1 followed by one hundred 0s. The search engine’s founders named their company after “Googol,” but misspelled it as “Google,” according to the Stanford Daily. So there you have it. The site you go to in order to figure out the correct spellings of strange words is actually itself misspelled. Still, it’s better than the initial name for the company: Backrub (seriously).

“Tinder.” First of all, kudos to the folks at Tinder for not dropping the “e” in their name. Many an online company try to be clever by sacrificing vowels in the search to be “edgy” and to “register a domain name that hasn’t been taken.” (I’m looking at you, Tumblr.) Anyway, “tinder” is defined as “material that is easily combustible and can be used for lighting a fire, e.g. dry sticks.” So with Tinder, once you have a spark, you can make fire or a flame. Makes sense for a match making site.

“Wikipedia.” I kind of hate word mashups. Snapchat, LinkedIn, Buzzfeed, YouTube. Bunch of cutting-edge innovative jerks, all of them! But I’ll make an exception for Wikipedia.

As one can imagine, Wikipedia does a pretty good job of defining itself: “The name ‘Wikipedia’ is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning ‘quick’) and encyclopedia.” So “Wikipedia” means “Quick Encylopedia,” something I learned by Googling “Wikipedia,” which led me to Wikipedia’s page on … Wikipedia.

“Reddit.” Much like The B Sharps from “The Simpsons,” Reddit is a name that seems funny and clever the first time you say it, but gets less so the more you repeat it. The company’s FAQ says says, “It’s (sort of) a play on words — i.e., ‘I read it on reddit.'”

There also a lengthy Reddit thread on a supposed Latin definition of the word that we can only assume devolves into comments regarding “OP’s mom.”