Why are they called that? The silly stories behind 6 tech brands

What's a Wii? Why is Skype called Skype? And what the heck does eBay actually mean? Here are the real stories behind some of tech's strangest-sounding brands.

When you stop and think about it, most tech brand names don't make a whole lot of sense.

Really, if you told someone 20 years ago that "Go Daddy" would soon be one of the biggest names in computing, they probably would have called you crazy. If you told them 10 years ago that most Americans would one day know "Hulu" as a service that piped entertainment into homes, they might have had you committed.

Those brands work, though -- as do scores of other seemingly senseless names like eBay, Skype, and Wii. So where did these strange-sounding syllables come from, and how did they blossom into the powerful forces we know today?

Here are some answers.

[ For more tech name fun -- including the full tales behind such brands as Go Daddy, Google, and Apple -- check out JR's previous story, "How 6 memorable tech companies got their names." For gripes on the baffling names used for OS versions, read Kevin Purdy's "Windows, Mac, and Linux version naming schemes explained." ]

Nintendo Wii

Nintendo's Wii console is one of the weirder -- or should I say "wiirder" -- brands in the world of technology. So why in the world would Nintendo pick an almost unpronounceable double-voweled word for its gaming console?

wii_pile.jpgSource: Knife-thrower/Wikipedia

Toss your phallic theories aside, my friends: The actual answer is far less titillating. According to remarks made by Nintendo at the time of the Wii's unveiling, the word Wii -- at least, the way it's pronounced -- is meant to emphasize that the system is "for everyone." (Everyone who knows how to pronounce two back-to-back i's, anyway.)

The word Wii was also seen as being consistent and memorable across all languages, according to Nintendo. And as for those double i's? The game-maker thought they symbolized "both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play."



It may now be Microsoft's child, but make no mistake: Skype wasn't born in the halls of Redmond. If it were, it probably would have been called Microsoft PC Voice Chat and come in a choice of Home, Professional, and Ultra Premium Professional editions.

But no -- Skype was the brainchild of two European entrepreneurs. They sold the service to eBay in 2005; eBay then pawned it off to Microsoft six years later.

The guys behind the service wanted to come up with a name that explained what their product could do. As the story goes, they started out calling it "Sky Peer-to-Peer," since the connection utilized peer-to-peer technology that worked without wires.

"Sky Peer-to-Peer" wasn't exactly a name you'd remember, though, so the duo soon shortened the moniker to "Skyper." As luck would have it, skyper.com was already taken -- go figure -- and so the name became Skype.

And just like that, a brand was born.


Even if you don't have a TiVo, odds are you've used the term as a verb -- you know, like "I'm totally going to TiVo that nudie show on Cinemax." (Or, um, whatever you might say.)


When you think about it, though, the word "TiVo" doesn't really mean anything. So where did it come from?

Turns out TiVo -- at least according to one version of the tale -- is a combination of abbreviations (hey, it's no crime to rhyme). The company supposedly took the "T" and "V" from television and the "I" and "O" from I/O -- the term for input/output, not the annual Google developers' convention -- and mashed 'em all up to form a word that's maddeningly memorable and oh-so-fun to say.

The other explanation comes by way of a branding expert named Michael Cronan. In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, Cronan said he came up with the idea for the name by randomly drawing tiles from a bag of Scrabble letters. (Cronan also apparently came up with the brand "Kindle," though he won't say whether his Scrabble bag helped out with that one.)

The TiVo-makers reportedly toyed with hundreds of other possible names for their product, including Lasso and Bongo. It's just as well those two didn't work out; asking someone if they "Bongoed Letterman last night" could lead to some pretty awkward stares.

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