Insights from 20,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

Brand Name Creation: How Starbucks was Born from Sound


Starbucks is an iconic brand that has become synonymous with “coffee.” Some friends even say they’re going to grab “Starbucks” before work rather than saying they’ll meet for coffee.

That’s the power of a great brand name. It gets integrated into our daily speech patterns. Coming up with a great brand name, however, is no each tasks.

But how exactly did the founders of the the successful coffee giant come up with such a memorable brand name? And did it actually make a difference in their success?

The first Starbucks was opened in 1971 in Seattle by three friends who had met in college. Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker wanted to sell high quality coffee beans after learning from the founder of Peet’s Coffee.

The name Starbucks actually comes from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The Chief Mate in the book is named “Starbuck.” Baldwin, an English professor, must have had the book on his mind, because they also considered “Pequod” as a company name.

Bowker, a writer who owned an advertising business, had a business partner who suggested they explore names starting with “st” because he found the sound powerful and memorable.

So, the three founders started brainstorming business names with a long list. They knew they wanted something intriguing that started with “st,” so they came up with as many ideas as possible.

One of them pulled out an old map of the Cascade mountains and saw an old mining town called “Starbo.” This reminded Bowker of Starbuck. The three of them eventually decided to use the name “Starbucks” because it had the right sound they were looking for and seemed to make sense. This team focused on coming up with names that contained a sound they liked.

Using sounds or phonemes can be a productive brainstorming tool when you are naming a business. If you find yourself drawn to particular sounds, it is a good idea to try to incorporate them, especially as you begin brainstorming.

This can spark your creativity and lead you down interesting paths of thought that will help you come up with more ideas. Draw inspiration from various resources so you can get inspired from as many outlets as possible. It worked for Starbucks–it might work for you, too!

Of the various business name ideas the Starbucks founders came up with, Starbucks was a memorable one with a bit of a story behind it. It was a name that provided a solid foundation for them to build an impactful, powerful brand that changed the American coffee world for good.

If you’re wondering how to come up with a business name that’s just as powerful and fitting for your business, check out our ultimate guide to naming.

About the author

Meghan O'Toole
Insights from 20,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

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