Insights from 30,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

Brand Names Matter – Google’s Unsettling Past


Few people know that Google is not simply an abstract brand name–it takes its name from an augmentation of googol, a term for 10 raised to the 100th power. But what if we told you that Google was not always known by their iconic, memorable brand name? If you aren’t convinced that brand names matter, Google’s history might change your mind.

Back in 1996 when Google first launched, they went under the slightly unsettling name “BackRub.” The name referenced the search engine’s ability to analyze the web’s backlinks. While the initial thought behind it kind of makes sense, BackRub gives off a creepy vibe.

As search engine technology was advancing, Larry Page and Sergey Brin realized they had to come up with a better name. In 1997, Larry was in his office discussing new name ideas with his colleague Sean when Sean suggested “googolplex” as a possible name. Larry then shortened it to Google, and Sean, not realizing he was making a spelling error, found the domain for Larry and Sergey.

The new name stuck. Google works much better as a name for several reasons.

  1. It sounds more unique, friendly, and positive than the original name.
  2. It references a math term for an extremely large number, which speaks to the level of result google can stir up.
  3. It is a name that can also be used as a verb. We can search for answers by “Googling” them.

Do you think Google would have exploded into the tech giant it has become if they had stuck with the name BackRub? We don’t think so. Can you imagine “BackRub” becoming part of your daily vocabulary the way Google has? You can’t quite BackRub the answer to a question, but you certainly can Google it.

Your business name is a pivotal aspect of your brand. Having the wrong name will set you back on the path to success. Read these expert tips for choosing a great name.

About the author

Meghan O'Toole
Insights from 30,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

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