September 4:  “Brand” New Words Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 1998, two Ph.D. students from Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, formally incorporated their new company Google. Page and Brin’s search engine began as a research project in 1995.  Today, Google is the world’s most popular search engine.

The story of the word Google, however, long pre-dates the internet.  In 1938, while on a walk with his nephew in the New Jersey Palisades, mathematician Edward Kasner challenged the nine-year-old, Milton Sirotta, to come up with a name for a 1 followed by 100 zeroes.  Milton’s ready response was “googol.” Kasner liked the word so much he introduced it to the world in 1940 in his book Mathematics and the Imagination (1).

Each letter of "Google" is colored (from left to right) in blue, red, yellow, blue, green, and red.The change of the word’s spelling from googol to Google happened more than fifty years later.  Page and Brin originally called their search technology “BackRub”; however, in September 1997 they had a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a new name.  The story goes that at that meeting the name googol came up, but when it was typed into a computer to search for available domain names, it was misspelled as google. The name was available and was purchased before the misspelling was discovered, so Google stuck.

Another change happened on June 15, 2006 when the Oxford English Dictionary added the lower-case word “google” as a verb, meaning “To use any search engine.”

Today’s Challenge:  Brand Name Hall of Fame

The paradox of the trademarked names of companies, products, and services is that the most successful ones become generic, losing their distinctiveness as an exclusive brand name.  For example, the words aspirin, band aid, cornflakes, escalator, and zipper were at one time capitalized, legally protected brand names (2).  What currently capitalized trademarked brand name of a company, product, or service would you nominate for the Brand Name Hall of Fame?  Make your case based on the name’s distinctive sound, its clever derivation, its metaphoric meaning, and/or its memorability. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1 – Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer.  The Life of Language. New York:  Random House, 2006:  167.

2 – ibid: 174.

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