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.

By , ITworld |  IT Management, branding, eBay


eBay

Most of us know the name eBay as well as we know Coke -- so what the hell does it actually mean? (eBay, that is; we'll leave the tale of Coke to the fine folks at the DEA.)

Source: liewcf/Flickr

Here's the scoop: The guy who founded eBay also ran a consulting company called Echo Bay. The auction site was originally envisioned as a hobby and almost fell under his Echo Bay brand.

One problem: Someone else had already snatched up the domain echobay.com -- current domain records show it's belonged to Vincent Lanci of Stamford, Connecticut since October of 1994 -- so the blossoming auction site landed instead at ebay.com, which amazingly was still available at that point.

In a way, good ol' Vincent Lanci may have indirectly helped eBay become what it is today. Think the site would have ever turned into a top-tier brand with Echo Bay as its name?

[ More fun with names: Have you ever given an odd name to your server? Were you lucky enough to reserve a an ordinary English word .com URL in 1994? ]


Hulu

It may sound like a simple tropical drink, but the name Hulu is actually intoxicatingly complex (and -- sorry Mai Tai fans -- has nothing to do with rum).

Believe it or not, the online video service's etymology revolves around Mandarin Chinese. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has said he and his fellow executives held a "series of marathon naming sessions" at which they came up with dozens of possible names for the company. An early standout was -- you guessed it -- Hulu.

Hulu, Kilar says, has two separate meanings in Mandarin: one that translates to "gourd" and is used to describe a receptacle for precious things (insert your own off-color joke here) and another that means "interactive recording." Kilar and his crew thought both meanings seemed like perfect fits for the product they were pushing.

Other perks of the name, according to Kilar: It has no English meaning, it's short and memorable, and it's "approachable and fun."

Hey, at least they didn't go with "Bob."


Hotmail

Microsoft's design language changes, but the name remains the same

Source: BlogWorld & TBEX events/Flickr

What better way to end than with one of the Web's most damning domains? Let's face it: If you've got an email address at hotmail.com -- much like having one at aol.com -- it's the modern-day equivalent of walking down your high school hall with a "KICK ME" sign taped to your back.

(Outlook.com is a little better, but it might still earn you a swirlie if you aren't careful.)

Hotmail was cool once, back in the days when AOL was more than a punchline. The service launched in the late '90s, when the notion of Web-based email was still new and uncharted.

The company's founders wanted a name that ended in "mail," for obvious reasons. They liked Hotmail because it had the letters "H," "T," "M," and "L" -- as in HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, the code used to create basic Web content. In fact, Hotmail was originally stylized as HoTMaiL to emphasize the connection.

And here you thought it couldn't be any worse than it is today.

JR Raphael is a syndicated writer and part-time name investigator. Follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook for more merry musings.

This article, "Why are they called that? The silly stories behind 6 tech brands," was originally published at ITworld. Follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook for the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos.

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