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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.

Should Nintendo's video game future falter on the trainwreck of a system known as Wii U, it can always fall back on its roots as a maker of playing cards, which it continues to produce for the Japanese market.

The Nokia brand may soon go away following an all-but-final acquisition by Microsoft, but the Finnish company can claim a history that reaches back nearly 150 years.

Nokia began its existence far from the world of mobile technology--as a paper mill. The nascent company's second groundwood pulp mill was built near the town of Nokia (about 100 miles northwest of Helsinki), which the company decided to adopt as its name when it became a public share company in 1871.

Over the decades, Nokia dabbled in all sorts of industrial ventures, which eventually led to its forming a telecommunications department in the late 1960s. By the 1980s, the company had become one of the first manufacturers of early mobile phones, such as the nearly 2-pound Mobira Cityman 900 in 1987.

Flash-forward to 2013, and the company manufactures mobile phones with some spec-tacular imaging hardware that is unfortunately attached to a Windows phone. And if everything goes Microsoft's way, Nokia may remain married to Windows phones for a looong time.

In its first decade of existence, the company that would go on to create the Walkman, the PlayStation, and various other forms of bathtub-proof gadgetry went by the name Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo--or in English, "Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company."

The company's founders felt that they needed to change its decidedly Japanese name would changed if it was to compete successfully in the developed postwar markets in Europe and the United States--especially at a time when, in those markets, "Made in Japan" was synonymous with cheap junk.

In a bid for Romanized respectability, the company's founders chose the word "Sony" as a combination of the Latin word sonus, meaning "sound," and the common American colloquialism "sonny-boy."

The first Sony-branded product was the TR-55 transistor radio, which went on sale in 1955 as Japan's first portable radio.

God bless her, Marissa Mayer continues to do her darnedest to transform the once-powerful brand from a virtual warehouser of stale email addresses to a powerhouse of hip.

We wish her the best, but Yahoo's best years may far behind it.

Indeed, those heady days are so long gone that most people forget when the company's curated list of links was quite a handy tool to have around.

The company began as a hobby. Stanford University Ph.D. candidates David Filo and Jerry Yang kept a list of all their favorite sites. As the list began to grow plump with categories and subcategories, the pair realized they might have a service that would be useful to early Web surfers.


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