Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How was Java named?

This is a no-brainer question yet an extremely important one…

Every technology in the world has its own history. Who invented it, when, where, and how it was invented. Java is no exception. And it becomes more interesting since, as far I know, the name represents either one of the following 2 things: Java as a Hindi word or Java as an island of Indonesia (although the name of this island comes from the same source as the first one). I inclined to think the latter since along with the Java project, there are also another project that, at some point, related to Java, i.e. Jakarta and Gamelan. Respectively, Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia located at Java Island and Gamelan is a traditional music from Java culture, one of the major cultures in Indonesia. So undoubtedly, the name has something to do with Java as an island of Indonesia.

So, what motivates Sun, as Java inventor, chose “Java” as the brand for the technology?

Here is an email from James Gosling, Java lead inventor, to Jonathan Schwartz, Sun CEO, as a response to the very same question as the title above:


Begin forwarded message:

From: James Gosling

Date: August 24, 2007 8:16:58 PM PDT

To: Jonathan Schwartz

Subject: How was Java named?

The story goes like this:

We needed a name. We had been using "oak" (which was selected essentially randomly by me), and while the team had grown attached to it, the trademark lawyers ruled it out. We had lots of email debates about names, but nothing got resolved. We ended up in the awkward position where the #1 thing stopping us from shipping was the name.

Our marketing lead knew someone who was a "naming consultant" (I don't remember his name, but he was great). We could neither afford the price nor the time of a conventional product naming process. He agreed to do something rather odd, but effective and quick: he acted as a facilitator at a meeting where about a dozen of us locked ourselves in a room for an afternoon. He started asking us questions like "How does this thing make you feel?" (Excited!) "What else makes you feel that way?" (Java!) We ended up with a board covered with essentially random words. Then he put us through a sorting process where we ended up with a ranking of the names. We ended up with a dozen name candidates and sent them off to the lawyers: they worked down the list until they hit one that cleared their search. "Java" was the fourth name on the list. The first name on the list was "Silk", which I hated but everyone else liked. My favorite was "Lyric", the third one on the list, but it didn't pass the lawyers test. I don't remember what the other candidate names where.

So, who named Java? Marketing organized the meeting, the consultant ran it, and a whole pile of us did a lot of yelling out of random words. I'm honestly not real sure who said "Java" first, but I'm pretty sure it was Mark Opperman.

There certainly wasn't any brilliant marketing mind who went through a coherent thought process.


As with a lot of innovation, not every decision - nor product name, blog or line of code - starts on a spreadsheet. Opportunity's often far harder to measure.


So, James said that the Java team ended up with a ranking of random words and then they were sent off to the lawyers.

But still the question remains. How did the lawyers hit Java instead of the others?

That’s still unclear for me……..did they too end up with a name (that’s “Java”) chosen randomly..?

If so, then Java is very lucky to become the chosen one…….and now it’s among the most notable words in Information Technology world…


Rohit said...

thanx, interesting story

Joe Osborn said...

Hi, Joe Osborn here, former President of a company called Jandel Scientific. You may be interested to know that Jandel had a software product named JAVA that predated Sun's product. Our product was a video analysis product for scientists. I came up with the name JAVA as an acronym for JAndel Video Analysis software. The software's first version was written by a brilliant MIT programmer named Glenn Albinger.

Jandel owned the copyrights to the name JAVA, and later sold the name JAVA to Sun microsystems. We renamed our Java product to SigmaScan. Later, Jandel was sold to SPSS software, who in turn sold the products to Systat Software. The SigmaScan product is still sold by Systat (see

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