Name Dropper: Original Names of Big Businesses


Many of the big businesses we know today are recognizable just by name alone, and with that recognition, comes a perceived image and expectation. When we hear “Amazon,” we think of a hassle-free online ordering, “Facebook” provides easy sharing of photos, and “Google” offers quick searching of information.

While these names are now synonymous with big bucks and serious business, many of them started out with completely different monikers. Below are what these companies were originally called before their names were changed to the ones we are familiar with in present day.

1. Amazon = Cadabra

Founder Jeff Bezos started Cadabra in his Bellevue, Washington garage in 1994 as a way to minimize his regret for not joining the internet mania soon enough. He later on felt that the name “Cadabra” sounded too much like “cadaver,” so he scoured through a dictionary to find a new name. Bezos ended up settling with “Amazon,” inspired by the word’s exoticness, the Amazon River’s size, and the mere fact that starting with the letter “A” would mean placing first when listed alphabetically.

Amazon’s market cap as of May 2015 is $175.1 billion.

2. eBay = AuctionWeb

AuctionWeb was started in 1995 by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar as a hobby. When this side project witnessed exponential growth–the number of auctions held on the site went from 250,000 in all of 1996 to 2,000,000 in only the first month of 1997–Omidyar decided to change the name to eBay.

The eBay site already belonged to Omidyar at the time of the name change. The programmer had a consulting firm called Echo Bay Technology, for which he tried to get the domain name, but failed, due to it being owned by Echo Bay Mines. For that reason, he settled for a shorter version called “eBay.”

eBay’s market cap as of August 2015 is $34.80 billion.

3. Facebook = thefacebook

Many people have heard about how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his college dorm, thanks to the movie “The Social Network.” Although its current name isn’t very different from its original one, Facebook’s move is arguably still a big change. It is generally accepted among website developers that shorter domains are better due to readability, memorability, and search engine optimization, since most search engines remove “stop-words” such as “the.”

Ezra Callahan, who some people may know as “Facebook Employee #6,” says that they “always wanted to be ‘Facebook,’ but someone was using/squatting on that domain,” and that the team “finally acquired it (at relatively huge expense for [them] at the time) in summer 2005.” The huge price tag for the domain was US$200,000.

Facebook’s market cap as of August 2015 is $265.7 billion.

4. Google = BackRub

How weird would it be to say “Let me BackRub that for you?” If Larry Page and Sergey Brin never changed their company’s name to “Google,” you could find yourself saying that phrase today.

Initially a research project for the founders’ PhD studies at Stanford University, BackRub was a better way of presenting search results, analyzing the relationship between websites as opposed to simply counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page. Its name was inspired by how the system checked backlinks to determine a site’s significance.

The name “Google” came from the word “googol,” which is the term for the number one followed by one hundred zeroes. That’s also why if you look at the bottom of your search page, you will see “Goooooogle” below the numbers.

Google’s market cap as of August 2015 is $435 billion.

5. Twitter = twttr

The idea for twttr was conceived by Jack Dorsey when he was just an undergraduate student in New York University. Its name was inspired by a few things, such as the website “Flickr,” the five-character American SMS short codes (those special phone numbers companies use), and the fact that the domain was already taken. [TIP: If you’re starting a business, make sure the corresponding domain name is still available, or at least purchasable].

twttr bought the domain in 2006 (reports vary, from $5,000 to $7,500), and the first tweet, sent by Jack Dorsey on March 24th of the same year, went like this: just setting up my twttr.

Twitter’s market cap as of August 2015 is $17.69 billion.

6. Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web = Yahoo!

What. A. Name. The JADGTTWWW website was created in January 1994 by Standford’s electrical engineering graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo as a directory of other websites. The ridiculously long name didn’t last very long, however. Just three months after it was formed, the website’s name was changed to “Yahoo!,” a backronym for “Yet Another Hierarchically Organized Oracle.”

Yahoo!’s market cap as of August 2015 is $34.41 billion.



I write about exceptional people in pop culture and business, and about things related to money, style, and life.

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