It was the Bard who wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That may be true, but in the world of business technology, the naming of devices and platforms seems to be a mix between acronyms and initials, and actual names that often have a historical connotation. Let’s explore some of the most common technology names and their meanings and origins.
Some of these names are quite easy to understand, such as LAN or WLAN — that would be local area network and wireless local area network. But what about Wi-Fi or WiMAX? Well, here it gets terribly confusing. Wi-Fi is actually a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance and is used with a certified product that belongs to a very specific class of WLAN devices based on the IEEE 802.11 standard. And before we go further, IEEE stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. And while it’s a trademark, Wi-Fi is now universally used ubiquitously as any wireless network. It’s somewhat obvious that the “Wi” part must mean wireless, but what about the “Fi?” Well that’s “fidelity,” so together it’s Wireless Fidelity. That makes sense, right?
So WiMAX must be Wi-Fi to the max? Not exactly. In fact the “Wi” part doesn’t even stand for “wireless.” Instead it means worldwide interoperability for microwave access — so shouldn’t it be WIMAX? Well, the problem is that Wi-Fi and WiMAX are often written about and discussed together, hence the “Wi” in both.
Many technologies, from laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) to radar (radio detection and ranging) started out as acronyms only to become somewhat standardized and completely generic names. Other acronyms or initials are only known by their respective letters, such as JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group).
Contrast all this to the PAN (personal area network) technology or open wireless protocol, known as Bluetooth, which doesn’t actually stand for anything. There’s a lot of confusion because Bluetooth was developed around the same time as Blu-ray, the blue laser-based technology that’s now used for high definition movie discs and was a competitor to HD-DVD (high definition DVD — with DVD standing for digital versatile disc, not digital video disc as was widely believed). But whereas Blu-ray was devised as a name that at least sort of explained the technology (and was created to differentiate it from HD-DVD), Bluetooth has a completely different origin.
Bluetooth is named after the 10th century King Harald I, who united the various tribes of Denmark and went on to conquer much of modern day Norway and Sweden, albeit only briefly. His full name was Harald Blátönn Gormson in the Old Norse and Harald Blåtand in Danish, having “earned” the Blåtand for his way with words or for the character of his mouth. On the one hand, Harald is generally credited with spreading Christianity to Denmark and Scandinavia following his conversion, thus being one who spread information and was a unifier — much the way the technology can connect devices wirelessly.
Therefore the wireless protocol was named after him, although there appears to be at least one issue with the choice of the name. Today “blå” in modern Scandinavian languages means “blue,” but during the days of Old King Harald, it also often meant “black,” making his nickname Harold Blacktooth — and given the dental hygiene of the day, he may have indeed been of “black teeth.” Of course, what’s also worth noting is that the Bluetooth logo is the merger of two Germanic runes, including Hagall or “hail” and Berkanan or “birch.” Why these were chosen is unclear, although the Berkanan looks like the letter “B.”
The irony here is that many companies use “code names” for their technology, and when Bluetooth was developed the name was chosen merely as a code name. The moniker stuck, but what’s in a name?