So why did they decide to call it Java?

Unabridged comments from key participants on the origin of the name

Frank Yellin's remarks to JavaWorld

JavaWorld: What is your recollection of the meeting in which the word "Java" was chosen as the name of Sun's new programming environment? Where was it held and when?

Yellin: I don't remember the exact date of the meeting. There are people who keep better records than I do who might be able to give you a better answer. The lawyers had told us that we couldn't use the name OAK (because of Oak Technologies). So a brainstorming session was held to come up with ideas for a new name. The brainstorming session was attended by all members of what was then called the Live Oak group, those of us actively working on Java. There was also a facilitator, but I don't remember his name.

The end result was about ten names. All of them were submitted to the legal department. Three of them came back clean: Java, DNA, and Silk. A vote was then held. Every person got to rank the three in order of their preference. It turns out that the same name that got the most "most-favorite votes" also got the most "least-favorite" votes. So it was dropped, and of the remaining two, Java got the most votes. So it became the name. Sun immediately went off and did all the trademark stuff it needed to do.

JW: Who first suggested the name?

Yellin: No one remembers who came up with the name. There have been several people suggesting other people who might have come up with the name first. Only one person, to the best of my knowledge, has ever suggested in public to being the creator of the name. No one else seems to have any recollection of this.

In a recent interview with her, I read that Kim "co-developed" Java and that she was the one who decided that the best way to make Java successful was to give it away. I therefore tend to treat other uncorroborated claims she makes with a bit of skepticism.

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Kim Polese's remarks to JavaWorld

JavaWorld: We are trying to nail down the details of how Java was named. As we understand it, Java was named in a brainstorming session to come up with a replacement for Oak. Java, DNA, and Silk were the three names that got through legal the best, because every possible name with "Web" or "Net" in it already was taken, including WebRunner. You have been quoted as saying that Java was suggested because it was "a name that sounded like it could give you a jolt but did not sound nerdy." Did you come up with the name?

Polese: Yes, I named Java. I spent a lot of time and energy on naming Java because I wanted to get precisely the right name. I wanted a name that reflected the essence of the technology -- dynamic, revolutionary, lively, fun, gives the Web a jolt. Because this programming language was so unique, I was determined to avoid nerdy names. I also didn't want anything with Net or Web in it, because I find those names very forgettable. I wanted something that was cool, unique, and easy to spell and fun to say.

I gathered the team together in a room, wrote up on the whiteboard words like "dynamic," "alive," "jolt," "impact," "revolutionary," etc., and led the group in brainstorming. The name emerged during one of those brainstorming sessions. Other names from the session: DNA, Silk, Ruby, and get this -- WRL (WebRunner Language -- yuck!!).

I test-marketed the names at parties, and on every one of my friends and family members. Java got the most positive reactions of all the names, and I also liked it the best.

Because it wasn't certain that we would get any of the names cleared through trademark, I selected about three or four and worked with the lawyers on clearing them. Java passed, and it was my favorite, so I named the language Java and subsequently named the browser HotJava, a much better name than "WebRunner"! The engineers had a hard time parting with the original code-name for the programming language, "Oak." But they finally got used to it.

Then I hired a great graphic artist to design the Java logo -- Mark Andersen Design; he's done the 3DO logo, the Sun logo, and the Macintosh logo. I selected the coffee cup from the initial designs he suggested and worked with him on finalizing the look.

I felt that name and branding was very important to ensuring the success and ubiquity of Java. Most programming languages have nerdy names and no logo and no branding. But because I wanted Java to be a standard, I felt it needed all the bells and whistles that consumer software products typically get, so I focused on building a very strong brand for Java. It worked. As Scott McNealy likes to say, Java is a more recognizable brand than Sun Microsystems itself is.

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Sami Shaio's remarks to JavaWorld

JavaWorld: What is your recollection of the meeting in which the word "Java" was chosen as the name of Sun's new programming environment? Where was it held and when?

Shaio: Oh, boy. Well let me look through my extensive archives. The meeting was held at the "TestPattern" conference room in "PAL2," which is the building at 100 Hamilton Ave., where all the Java-Internet thing happened. It's also the infamous building where OSF started, when it was known as the "Hamilton Group." I believe the meeting was held in perhaps January of 1995.

JW: Who first suggested the name? What was the initial reaction?

Shaio: It's actually hard to say where it first came from. We had various e-mail storms back then where people were suggesting names, and Java ended up on the list of candidates we considered at the meeting.

JW: What other names were considered? Why were they rejected in favor of Java?

Shaio: WRL, for WebRunner Language (WebRunner was the original name of HotJava but it turned out to be taken), Silk, Lyric, Pepper, NetProse, Neon, and a host of others too embarrassing to mention.

JW: How was the decision made? Who gave the final OK?

Shaio: Basically after numerous e-mail surveys filtered the list down to a manageable size we had the naming meeting. At the time we were trying to release the Alpha1 of Java (then known as Oak or actually O.A.K., which was the temporary name that we used since "Oak" was taken and couldn't be used publicly. That's one of the causes of why some people think that Oak stood for Object Application Kernel or whatever.

So we had the meeting. This guy named Jeff Berner was hired to moderate the meeting and keep it interesting, which he certainly did! It came down to Silk or Java, and Java won out. James Gosling seemed to favor Java over Silk. Kim Polese had the final say over the name, since she was the product manager. But most decisions back then were done by everyone kind of agreeing, and then someone would just say, "OK, this is what we're doing."

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Chris Warth's remarks to JavaWorld

JavaWorld: We're trying to nail down the details of Java's naming. There are all kinds of stories floating around. Were you at the naming meetings? If so, what's the real story, in your opinion?

Warth: Yes, I was at many if not all the naming meetings. In any case I was certainly at the one where "Java" was voted onto a very short list. Some other candidates were "WebDancer" and "WebSpinner" (retch!). I was just going over the naming issue with a friend who has started his own company. We were noticing that, in retrospect, although [Sun's] marketing wanted a name that implied an association with the Web or the Net, we did very well to pick a name that is not associated with either one. Java is likely to find a true home in applications far from the Internet, so it is best that it wasn't pigeonholed early. A side-benefit is that the name "Java" has so many cliched associations to choose from -- Espresso, Cafe, Latte. We opened up a whole new naming horizon just when "Web" and "Net" were getting exhausted.

Java was actually the third name for the language. When we were working on the Green project, James first called it "Greentalk" and the file extension was ".gt". Then it became "Oak" for several years and only relatively recently was it called "Java," because Oak was already trademarked in the computer field.

JW: Arthur van Hoff says that you first suggested the name "Java" at the brainstorming meeting. True?

Warth: I don't claim to be the one who first suggested the name. It definitely was Peet's coffee. But it might have been me or James or Mark Opperman, or even someone else. I don't actually remember. It really doesn't matter who came up with the name first, because it was in a brainstorming session, and a lot of names were being thrown out as possible candidates.

I do seem to recall that Kim was lukewarm on the name Java. At the time we were also trying to rename our browser from WebRunner to something that wasn't already trademarked -- by my recollection by Taligent. Kim wanted things like WebSpinner or even WebDancer, something that would make it clear that this was a World Wide Web product. We would then have been left with the problem of naming the language, and all the good names were taken. So when Java was suggested, it was also suggested that we name our browser "HotJava."

The trademark search was done, and after several weeks a short list of cleared names came back. At the time Kim wanted us to hold up the release so we could find a better name than Java, but she was overruled by the engineers, especially James and Arthur and myself, and we just did a very quick set of renames in the source code and put the release out.

The feeling amongst myself and James and the other engineers was that we could call it "xyzzy" and it would still be popular, the branding would take care of itself. In the end, I think the marketeers and vice presidents had far less to say about the name than the engineers who were dying to get something out the door.

In the end, it doesn't matter who originally suggested the name because the decision was ultimately a group decision -- perhaps helped along by a handful of people who decided just to go for it late one night. I think Kim is rewriting history a bit when she suggests that she picked this name for some savvy marketing reason. Maybe that is true, because I wasn't in on the marketing meetings with Eric Schmidt et al. But I feel like we ended up with this name because we ran out of options and we wanted to get our product out. The marketing justifications came later.

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James Gosling's remarks to JavaWorld

JavaWorld: Would you be kind enough to give us a quote on your recollection of how "Java" was chosen? Do you recall who first suggested the name? When? Where?

Gosling: The name "Java" originated in a meeting where about a dozen people got together to brainstorm. There was an outside consultant (whose name I forget) who was the meeting facilitator. The meeting was arranged by Kim Polese. Fundamentally, the meeting was continuous wild craziness. Lots of people yelled out words. Who yelled out what first is unknowable and unimportant. It felt like most of the words in the dictionary were yelled out at some time or another. There was a lot of "I like this because..." and "I don't like that because..." And in the end we whittled it down to a list of about a dozen names.

We handed it off to the trademark lawyers and let them pick the one nearest the top of the list that passed the trademark-ability criteria. Java was about the third or fourth name on the list.

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Timothy Lindholm's remarks to JavaWorld

JavaWorld: We are wondering whether you could give us a quote on your recollections of the meeting at which Java was named. Also, would you be kind enough to tell us what the initial feedback was to the name at Sun, such as, "Who gave the final OK to the name?" We'd like to write a definitive account of something that a lot of folks have been wondering about.

Lindholm: The LiveOak Project had problems with a name, as "Oak" was clearly taken. We were really disgusted and tired from all the marathon hacking we'd been doing, and we still hadn't found a name that we could stand and that we could get through trademark search. There had been literally hundreds of names e-mailed around, and I had been keeping records of all of them. (This isn't the first time I've regretted deleting those records -- I wonder if I could still get them from backups?) We were pressed for time, as adopting a new name meant a lot of work, and we had releases coming up. I think that we had just put out a semi-public release calling the language O.A.K., standing for Object Application Kernel or some hack like that so we could say that the language was not "Oak" but we didn't have to change our sources. We knew we couldn't keep that up though.

So we set up a meeting for whoever cared to come, where the intent of the meeting was to thrash out a list of 10 names that we could stand and that weren't obviously taken, in the hope that about three of them would pass trademark search.

The meeting went on for quite a while and I remember that there wasn't anything that jumped out as obviously the right thing to do. We were talking in despair about dumb names like "Rover." We ended up with our list, and Java was one of the top choices, along with Silk, as in what you spin webs with. I don't remember there being a particular champion of "Java," but some people thought it was better than some of the other choices. I think that we were concerned about "Silk's" availability.

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