Apple, Hulu, Etsy: How famous tech companies got their names

The tech world is known for creativity that sometimes borders on wackiness -- and that is often first noticed in a company's name. From Hulu to Zillow, from Apple to Verizon, and every Yahoo, Flickr, and Twitter in between, there is a story behind the name. Here's a look at some of the most prolific tech companies today and how they ended up with their names.

1. Google

REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files
Two out of every three Internet searches worldwide are done on Google.

Google is so ubiquitous online that its name has become a verb. But would the Internet’s most popular search engine have found the same success if it were called “BackRub”?

"Hm. I don't know the answer. I'll BackRub it."

According to a close friend of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the pair and a few of their friends were sitting in the computer science building at Stanford University brainstorming potential names for their service. At the time, they had called the search engine “BackRub,” because it would analyze the Web’s “back links.” But it was clear they were in need of a better name (with less intimate connotations) and something that conveyed the large amounts of data they were hoping to index.

A friend, Sean Anderson, suggested “Googolplex," the term for a number with a googol zeros behind it (a googol is a number with 100 zeros behind it). Mr. Page shortened it to “Googol.” Mr. Anderson, who wasn’t the greatest speller, searched domain name registries for “Google.” It was available, and a few hours later, the domain name “” was registered.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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