Have you ever wondered where the name “Bluetooth” came from? You probably haven’t, but—curiously—the name for this modern technology traces back all the way to the Middle Ages and a Viking king.
Bluetooth technology has become ubiquitous over the years and is the go-to standard for short-range wireless communications. There’s a good chance you’ve used Bluetooth today. You might even be listening to the latest pop tune on your Bluetooth headphones this very moment.
But how did Bluetooth end up getting its name?
One name to rule them all
Back in 1996, multiple companies were working on a breakthrough wireless technology that would let devices communicate across short distances. Wait…many firms working on one common goal? That sounds like a dream come true!
Except, there was one tiny problem: Each of them was devising and pushing its own standard. The world was at risk of ending up with yet another fragmented industry. Imagine living in a dystopian future where you had to carry different wireless adapters around, just like you do with power adapters when you go traveling? The horror!
To prevent that from happening, major industry players decided to team up and develop a common standard, so that all devices could communicate without issues. In 1998, they formed the Special Interest Group (SIG). While SIG sounds like a shady spin-off of the Illuminati, it was actually just a club of firms developing this shared wireless standard.
SIG’s initial members included Ericsson, IBM, Toshiba, Intel, and Nokia. It looked like they’d be able to arrive at a common standard. All they needed was a good name for it.
Enter Bluetooth…a medieval king?
Intel engineer Jim Kardach was the one who officially suggested the name. He settled on it after an evening of drinking with another engineer, Sven Mattisson from Ericsson. As one does.
Mattisson told Kardach about a king named Harald Gormsson, who once ruled over Denmark and Norway. The king’s nickname? “Blåtand,” which literally translates to “Bluetooth.” The exact origins of his nickname are disputed, so I won’t be casting doubt on Blåtand’s dental hygiene here.
Now, what does a king from the Middle Ages have to do with present-day wireless communications?
Kardach’s reasoning was as follows: Just like Harald had united Scandinavia back in the day, Bluetooth would unite the wireless standards of the late 1990s. To really drive the point home, Kardach put together exactly the kind of wacky PowerPoint slide we now associate with the 1990s, when flashy colors and cartoonish layouts took precedence over readability:
SIG members agreed to use “Bluetooth” as the project’s code name, intending to find a proper name for the technology later. In the end, the name “Bluetooth” stuck, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Bluetooth logo also has a story
In case you’ve forgotten how the Bluetooth logo looks, here it is:
So, what is it? A two-headed fish? A butterfly drawn by a pedantic geometry teacher?
Actually, the logo is linked directly to Harald Blåtand himself. It’s a fusion of two old Scandinavian runes: ᚼ for “H” and ᛒ for “B.”
If you place them over each other on a blue background, you get the 90-degree ninja turtle face above. (You can’t unsee it now.) Pretty straightforward, right?
The names that didn’t make it
While Bluetooth emerged as the name we all know and love, many others have been discarded along the way. Let’s spend a few moments to pay our respects to the alternative names that could have been.
Intel’s internal name for their short-range wireless technology program. It didn’t catch on.
Short for “Multi-Communicator Link,” Ericsson used it for their development program. It would have been the perfect stage name for a funky ’90s rapper, but remained unused.
The name of Nokia’s original program.
PAN (Personal Area Networking)
This was the umbrella term proposed by IBM. Unlike the other three names, PAN was actually the front-runner until the very end and was accepted by all SIG companies.
So why are we not wearing “PAN headsets” today? Because of a trademark issue. When SIG members performed an Internet search for “PAN,” it returned thousands upon thousands of hits. As such, they felt it would be difficult to turn into a trademark later on.
Intel proposed this umbrella term to the other SIG members, but it lost a 4-to-1 vote to “PAN” above. When “PAN” got dropped, “Radio Wire” did not have time to go through a proper trademark search process, and “Bluetooth” was the only backup candidate.
At some stage in the brainstorming process, SIG toyed with the name “Flirt.” It even had a catchy tagline to go along with it: “Getting close, but not touching.” In the end – presumably because there were no ancient kings known for flirting – the name was dropped.
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