Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey spoke with WNYC's Lisa Chow and Jim Colgan in an interview that went on the site today. They talked all about company names, and how Twitter came to be called that, and Dorsey revealed that he basically just pulls names for companies out of the dictionary. His explanation of how the company was originally supposed to be called Twitch (something Biz Stone had touched on with Jimmy Fallon last year), has been catching people's fancy this morning.
DORSEY: We wanted a name that evoked what we did. We wanted something that was tangible. And we looked at what we were doing and when you received a tweet over SMS, your phone would buzz. It would jitter. It would twitch. And those were the early names, Jitter and Twitch. And neither one of them really inspired the best sort of imagery.
One of the guys who was helping us build and create the system, Noah Glass, took the word Twitch, and he went down the dictionary. And we all looked at the Oxford English dictionary at the T-W’s, and we found the word Twitter. And Twitter means a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds. And we were like, that describes exactly what we’re doing here. So it was an easy choice, and we got twitter.com for some very low price, and we named the company Twitter.
But there's more, lower down in the interview, about the naming process for Square, the mobile payments application Dorsey also developed.
We were actually discussing the idea without a name in the middle of the woods up in Marin County around San Francisco. It was nighttime, and there were all these squirrels moving back and forth, and I saw a squirrel and I was like, "Squirrel! They go around and collect acorns. They squirrel things away. And that’s perfect because people are going around, and they’re accepting payments, and they’re squirreling away money. Let’s name it Squirrel, and the device can be an acorn, and you can swipe a credit card through the acorn and plug it into your mobile phone. It’s perfect." And we were calling the company Squirrel and all the code was named Squirrel.
Two months later, we were demoing it at a company, and I was in their cafeteria and I was checking out for my lunch, and I saw this little squirrel logo, and it was at their point of sale system. And I said to my colleague, “What’s that?” And he worked at this company and said, “Oh that’s our point of sale. It’s called Squirrel Systems.” And I was like, well we’ve got to change that name.
And then I just remembered what we did at Twitter with the dictionary. So I looked up the word Squirrel and I went down the S-Q’s and I came across Square. And I looked at the definition, and of course it’s geometry but also there’s a phrase “square up,” which means to settle. There’s “fair and square,” which means that we’ve settled up. And then there’s “we’re square,” which means we’re good. We’ve paid our dues.
Square also means somebody's not cool or behind the times, but Dorsey said, "we ignored that part."