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'So, that's why it's called Bluetooth!' and other surprising tech name origins

Evan Dashevsky | Nov. 11, 2013
The hidden, and occasionally accidental, history of common tech brand names.

Bluetooth name tags

The startup world is filled with all manner of intentionally misspelled nonwords and incomprehensible baby talk. It's enough makes one nostalgic for an earlier time when tech names actually meant something.

The stories of how some of the world's biggest brands and technologies came up with their names open a window to a different era--a simpler time before Web squatters took all the normal names and corporations  focus-grouped language to death.

A better time.

Here we present the hidden--and occasionally accidental--histories behind some of the biggest names in tech.

Like most normal people, you probably haven't invested too much of your valuable time pondering the origins of the term "Bluetooth." As it turns out, the ubiquitous wireless technology's name has nothing to do with being blue or tooth-like in appearance and has everything to do with medieval Scandinavia.

Harald Bluetooth was the Viking king of Denmark between 958 and 970. King Harald was famous for uniting parts of Denmark and Norway into one nation and converting the Danes to Christianity.

So, what does a turn-of-the-last-millennium Viking king have to do with wireless communication? He was a uniter!

In the mid-1990s, the wireless communication field needed some uniting. Numerous corporations were developing competing, noncompatible standards. Many people saw this growing fragmentation as an impediment to widespread adoption of wireless.

One such person was Jim Kardach, an Intel engineer working on wireless technologies. Kardach took on the role of a cross-corporate mediator dedicated to bringing various companies together to develop an industry-wide standard for low-power, short-range radio connectivity.

At the time, Kardach had been reading a book about Vikings that featured the reign of Harald, whom he viewed as an ideal symbol for bringing competing parties together, as he explained:

Bluetooth was borrowed from the 10th-century, second king of Denmark, King Harald Bluetooth; who was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

The various interested parties eventually came together to form the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which developed the agreed-upon standard we know and love today. "Bluetooth" was originally meant to be a placeholder, but the name had already taken off in the press and thus remains around today.

The millennium-old shout-out doesn't end there. If you look at the Bluetooth logo--the cryptic symbol in a blue oval printed on the box your phone came in--is the initials of Harald Bluetooth written in Scandinavian runes.

The Web's go-to site for acquiring Justin Bieber branded duct tape and oddly shaped potato chips might be excused for including the "e" prefix in its name. The nearly 20-year-old site was born in a technological era when "e" was the accepted prefix to indicate to all things "electronic." But as it turns out, eBay's "e" stands for "echo," and its "bay" just stands for itself--and neither "echo" nor "bay" has anything to do with online bidding.


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