Naming your kid is hard: You don’t want them to get made fun of in school; you don’t want them to have to constantly instruct people on correct pronunciation.
Naming your company is arguably just as hard: You don’t want to limit yourself in case you expand or pivot; you don’t want to confuse customers.
The story of how Amazon became Amazon is a prime example of how difficult the company-naming process can be. As Brad Stone writes in his 2013 bestseller, “The Everything Store,” Amazon was initially called “Cadabra, Inc.” It was intended as a reference to the word “abracadabra” (as in, magic).
Yet Stone writes that CEO Jeff Bezos’ first lawyer pointed out that the reference was too obscure. Plus, when you were on the phone, people sometimes heard “Cadaver” instead. Yikes.
Bezos thought the name of earth’s largest river was perfect because he was building earth’s largest bookstore
It was the mid-90s when Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, started exploring other possibilities. They registered the domain names Awake.com, Browse.com, and Bookmall.com. They also registered the domain name Relentless.com and kept it (if you type that into your browser today, you’ll be redirected to Amazon.com).
Then Bezos started paging through the “A” section of the dictionary. At the time, website listings were alphabetized, so he wanted a word that started with A. When he landed on the word “Amazon,” the name of the largest river on the planet, he decided that was the perfect name for what would become earth’s largest bookstore.
Stone writes that Bezos “walked into the garage” — Amazon’s makeshift office at the time — “and informed his colleagues of the company’s new name. He gave the impression that he didn’t care to hear anyone’s opinion on it.”
The new URL was registered on November, 1, 1994.
The story of how another tech giant, Apple, got its name is somewhat similar. According to Walter Isaacson’s 2011 book, “Steve Jobs,” Jobs said, “I was on one of my fruitarian diets.” He added, “It sounded fun, spirited, and not too intimidating.” Jobs also noted that Apple would be listed ahead of “Atari” in the phone book.
Jobs told Steve Wozniak, an Apple cofounder, that if they didn’t think of a better name by the following afternoon, they would go with Apple. We know how that ended.
As for Bezos, he told Stone why Amazon seemed a fitting name for his company: “This is not only the largest river in the world, it’s many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all other rivers away.”