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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.

Back in the pre-Google world, a company's position near the front of alphabetized phonebooks (and of early web approximations of phonebooks) was still a chief concern. "A" was where you wanted to be.

So Bezos went rummaging through the dictionary's first chapter in search of a likely business name--and eventually settled on "Amazon." Why? According to him, because it referred to the biggest river in the world. The biggest by a long shot.

On a tangential note: Take a look at the subliminal messaging in the current Amazon logo, which features a slightly askew smirk beneath the Amazon name. Note how the smirk resembles an arrow connecting the first "a" in "Amazon" to the letter "z," subtly driving home the point that the store delivers everything from A to Z.

Etsy
Etsy is the multi-million-dollar virtual marketplace for occasionally insane homespun crafts. But what is an "etsy" exactly? If you think it's just some made-up nonsense word that has no meaning, you're absolutely correct.

Launched in 2005, the company came about at a time when natural language URLs were already in short supply. Etsy cofounder Robert Kalin has admitted that "etsy" was simply an available nothing word, but one that sorta has some nice happenstances of translation.

"I wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch," Kalin said in a 2010 interview with Reader's Digest. "I was watching Fellini's and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say etsi a lot. It means oh, yes.' And in Latin, it means and if.'"

So the company's name means "and if" in a dead language. Try as Kalin might to justify it, Etsy still means nothing.

Nintendo
Though it wasn't the first home console system, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the biggest of its day. But few American children who spent the late 1980s addicted to goomba-stomping were aware that the Kyoto-based Nintendo Corporation had been in existence for more than a century.

Nintendo traces its roots back to 1889, when the company produced hand-made playing cards painted on mulberry tree bark and used in a game known as Hanafuda. Hanafuda is a game of chance that dates back several centuries and is closely associated with gambling and the Yakuza (indeed, the name ya-ku-za translates as "8-9-3," a losing hand in a Blackjack-like game). The name "Nintendo" in Japanese roughly translates as "leave luck to heaven" or "in heaven's hands."

So how did playing cards eventually lead to Mario Kart? After trying its hand (excuse the pun) at numerous endeavors over the next century, the company eventually found its way into the toy industry, which by the 1970s was a natural jumping-off point into the burgeoning video game market.

 

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