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PowerBook, Pentium, and BlackBerry All Got Their Names from the Same Place

Illustration for article titled PowerBook, Pentium, and BlackBerry All Got Their Names from the Same Place

We use things every single day, and call them by their names. I pick up my iPhone. I drink my Fresca (shut up). But the names don't just appear. It's actually someone's job—and they're great at it.


The New Yorker's John Colaptino provides a fascinating look at something that sounds horribly boring: a company that names other companies' things. But it's far from it. The amount of science, worry, and enlightened guesswork that goes into created monikers for things that'll snag us and our dollars is staggering. The company in the spotlight, Lexicon, has a hugely impressive track record: Pentium, PowerBook, BlackBerry, Dasani, Swiffer, and more.

They make it sound easy.

BlackBerry? RIM wanted to call it MegaMail (HA!), which conjured nothing but anxiety and phobia. Why not name it something pleasant, but also somewhat crisp and formidable? How about a blackberry?


Pentium? A mix of titanium (strong, powerful, elementally minimal) and pente, the greek prefix for five that noted the microprocessor jump from 486 to 586 architecture. Before they hired Lexicon, Intel had been selling their chips with no name but a number. It's hard to imagine anyone care about the new 986—though we have, interestingly, fastened ourselves to the "i7" of late.

And the PowerBook—granddaddy of computers a lot of us are using right now. Colaptino describes Apple's skepticism about the name, being nothing more than a combination of two ordinary words. "Yes, it is two common words put together, but there is no such thing as a PowerBook," he quotes.

We're surrounded by this kind of arbitrary alchemy. Plain nouns made into enormous enterprises and digital phenomena that change our daily lives. What the hell is a Facebook? Why is so much attention paid to H-T-C—three letters? Twitter, Flickr, Bing—they don't mean anything at all! But all of these words wedge their way into our neurons, wallets, and ambitions. They're poured into our eyes by marketing wizards, and we then dream we've appropriated them on our own. I'll photoshop it, I'll google him, Just check Facebook. [The New Yorker]

Photo by Thomasland

You can keep up with Sam Biddle, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.


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Interesting to me that auto manufacturers (with some exceptions) have moved away from names and instead using a jumble of numbers and/or letters. The goal was to put more emphasis on the manufacturer name but, somehow, I still miss the name "Miata".