Most of us spend a lot of time staring at a computer or TV screen, playing video games, or gabbing into our cell phones. The brand names for these products are all familiar, but where did they come from in the first place? Just what is a Nokia? Here’s a look at the origins of some of your favorite tech and gadget companies’ names.
1. Kodak: Founder George Eastman named the camera and film corporation in 1888. Eastman wanted a short name that was easy to pronounce and could only refer to his products. He later said that he favored the letter “k” because it “seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.” Once Eastman decided he wanted the name to start and end with “k,” he played around with combinations of letters until he found one that he liked in “Kodak.”
2. Nintendo: Nintendo’s name translates into English as “leave luck to heaven.” The name made more sense before Nintendo got into the video game business; it opened in 1889 to make hanafuda cards, a type of Japanese playing cards decorated with floral designs.
3. Sony: When Sony got its start in 1946, it had a decidedly less catchy name – Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo. Within a few years, the company’s founders wanted a new name, so they combined sonus, Latin for “sound,” with “Sonny,” the term of endearment for a young boy. The newly coined word captured both the superior sound quality and small size the company was shooting for with its products.
4. Sega: Sega got its start in Hawaii in 1940 as Standard Games, a business that provided military bases with pinball machines to help amuse soldiers. In 1951, the company moved to Tokyo and renamed itself “Service Games” to reflect its business of importing coin-op machines for American military bases. In 1965, Service Games merged with another coin-op company, Rosen Enterprises, and shortened its name to Sega.
5. Nokia: The modern telecom giant hasn’t always been involved in such tech-heavy fields. The company got its start in Tampere, Finland, in 1865 as a pulp mill and paper manufacturer. When owner Fredrik Idestam opened a second plant in Nokia, Finland, in 1868, he decided the town’s name would suit his company, too.
The town takes its name from the Nokianvirta River that flows through it, which in turn takes its name from an archaic Finnish word referring to the small furry animals, mostly sables, which lived on the river’s banks.
6. Cisco Systems: The recent addition to the Dow Jones Industrial Average takes its name from San Francisco, where it was founded in 1984.
7. Atari: The video-game pioneer takes its name the board game Go. In Go, atari is a term that indicates that a player’s stone (or group of a player’s stones) are in immediate danger of being captured by the player’s opponent.
8. Toshiba: Toshiba formed following the 1939 merger of consumer products company Tokyo Denki with machinery firm Shibaura Seisakusho. By taking the “To” from the former and the “Shiba” from the latter, a new company name was born.
9. Sanyo: Sanyo’s name means “three oceans” in Japanese; the company’s founder wanted to sell his wares across the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans to reach the entire world.
10. Seiko: The watchmaker takes its name from a Japanese word meaning “exquisite” or “success.”
11. Canon: When Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory started developing Japan’s first-ever 35mm camera equipped with a focal plane shutter, the engineers dubbed the creation “Kwanon” after the Buddhist goddess of mercy. At this point the company’s logo even included the thousand-armed goddess.
When the camera was ready to roll out worldwide in 1935, the company decided to tweak the name to “Canon” so it would be easier for international markets to accept.
12. Sharp: The electronics manufacturer got its start in 1912 as metalsmith Tokuji Hayakawa’s personal outlet for his inventions, including a specialized snap buckle. In 1915 Hayakawa invented an improved mechanical pencil he dubbed Ever-Sharp, and to honor the fine point of his creation, Hayakawa started calling his company “Sharp.”
13. Magnavox: The stalwart electronics company began in 1915 when Edwin Pridham and Peter Jensen created a moving-coil loudspeaker, which they named “Magnavox,” Latin for “great voice.”
14. Coleco: The video game kingpins of the 1970s and 80s (and the people who brought you Cabbage Patch Dolls!), Coleco was originally a company that sold shoe leather. The name Coleco is a shortening of “Connecticut Leather Company.”
15. Motorola: Founder Paul Galvin named his company in a twist on the old naming convention of putting “-ola” at the end of phonograph and radio names like the Victrola. Since Galvin and his company were making car radios, he merged “motor” with “-ola” to get the name.
16. Samsung: Samsung got its start in 1938 when Lee Byung-Chull started the “Samsung Store” in Korea. The store initially focused on exporting dried fish and fruit, but it jumped into electronics in the 1960s. The name Samsung is Korean for “three stars,” a nod to the lucky properties of the number three.
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