Where did the research project RedShark get its name?

Project code names are not arrived at by teams of focus groups who carefully parse out every semantic and etymological nuance of the name they choose. (Though if you read the technology press, you'd believe otherwise, because it turns out that taking a code name apart syllable-by-syllable searching for meaning is a great way to fill column-inches.) Usually, they are just spontaneous decisions, inspired by whatever random thoughts jump to mind.

Many years ago, there was an internal user interface research project code named RedShark. Not Red Shark but RedShark, accent on the Red. Where did this strange name come from?

From a red shark, of course.

When the project started up, the people in charge were sitting around and realized they needed to give the project a name. It so happened that the office they were sitting in belonged to a team member who collected a lot of strange toys. One of those toys was an small inflatable red shark.

Somebody looked around the room and spotted the red shark. "Let's call it RedShark." Nobody else had a better idea, so the name passed by default.

That small inflatable red shark became their mascot and hung from the ceiling in the hallway.

No deep, hidden meaning. Just a $3 cheap plastic toy that happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Comments (21)
  1. pc says:

    If the shark got hung for it, it may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time…

  2. EvanED says:

    I once put an algorithm in the final report for a grad class research project that we called the "blue algorithm" because when we were trying to figure out what to do, we put a couple possibilities up on the whiteboard in different colors, and it happened to be blue.

  3. Chris B says:

    That story sounds all too familiar to me. One of the projects I work on one was code named "Bobcat" about 7 years ago, and is still known by that name today.  There have been many hypotheses about how that name came about, but the truth is that there just happened to be a large piece of earth moving equipment produced by Bobcat (the earth moving equipment company) in a teammate's drive way near the beginning of the project, and he liked the name. The rest is a surprisingly accurate analogue of this story.

  4. Ken in NH says:

    While working at a major telecom company back in the 90s, I had to deal with a system named Route 7. It sounds like it should be meaningful since the primary function of a telecom company is to route calls (and bill for them), but it was simply named for the major state highway that passed near the original development team's building.

  5. Mason Wheeler says:

    @EvanED: Apparently that's (more or less) how the "Red-Black Tree" data structure got its name too: programmers.stackexchange.com/…/where-does-the-term-red-black-tree-come-from

  6. Jonathan says:

    @Chris B: Did you really hang a large piece of earth moving equipment from the ceiling? Pics or it didn't happen…

  7. Nawak says:

    "Not Red Shark but RedShark, accent on the Red"

    Not being a native english speaker, what is the difference in accentuation between "RedShark" and "Red Shark"?

  8. Michael Grier [MSFT] says:


    In American English at least, multi-syllable words tend to have one of the syllables stressed or accented.  For example my name, Michael, has two syllables and most people would say the first syllable slightly more lightly than the second.

    "Red Shark", being two separate words, would not have either of them accented except as appropriate (e.g. rising tone at the end of a question like "Oh you got bitten by a red shark?".

    "RedShark", being a single word with two syllables would have one of them emphasized.

    I have been told by my friends from India that this accenting or stressing does not occur so it's been something of a challenge to learn proper pronunciation of people's names since as a native speaker you hardly realize that you're doing it.  I believe the American practice follows traditional English English practice but I can't say for sure.

  9. LarsBerg [ex-MSFT] says:

    Nautilus was because we were developing a new IDE for dev tools, and the nautilus creature had a nifty-looking shell. Only slightly less random than RedShark…

  10. Ian Boyd says:

    After being sick of all our projects called "Grobber Manager", or "Grobber Management System", I decided I wanted a project named "Hyperion Pro".

    Hyperion, one of Saturn's moons. And "pro" because it sounds cooler than "Hyperion Standard"

    I don't care what the project is; I've just picked out the name.

  11. The RedShark t-shirt was surprisingly hardy as team shirts go and only recently succumbed to my washer's depredations.

  12. RP7 says:

    @Michael Grier,

    Probably for the most part, though there are some well known exceptions.  "Bernard" in American English is stressed on the second syllable; in British English, on the first syllable.  In terms of ordinary words there is a big difference between American "laboratory" (first and third syllables stressed, second vowel tending to disappear) and British "laboratory" (second syllable stressed, fourth vowel tending to disappear).

  13. Programmerman says:

    Reading the article, removing the space from "RedShark" also made me read it faster. Perhaps it was a performance optimization to remove the whitespace? ;)

  14. dave says:

    I once code-named a project "Alice" because (a) other projects had a tendency towards wow-look-at-me names that emphasized some big/fast/cool factor, and (b) I was reading Lewis Carroll at the time.

    It was fun hearing management types have to say "Alice" in internal project meetings.

  15. Lockwood says:

    We all know the name is the most important part of a project.

    I go with "Project Acorn"

  16. BZ says:


    The free portion of Interstate 476 in Pennsylvania is called the "blue route" for that exact reason. There were multiple alternatives for where to build it and the eventual winner happened to be blue on the original map. (The toll section is much less interestingly called "The Northeast Extension (of the Pennsylvania Turnpike)")

  17. Brian_EE says:

    @Michael Grier

    I read that as more the *emphasis* was on the fact that it was red, not that it was a shark. I.e. Project RedShark might have absolutley nothing in common with Project BlueShark, despite the common word "shark"

    [I mean it in the sense Michael gave. The word "Red" is spoken louder than "Shark". In casual conversation, when you say "I saw the red shark today", the emphasis is on the word "shark". But if you're talking about the project, you would put emphasis on the word "red". No explanation was ever given; that's just how it was. -Raymond]
  18. Silly says:

    I wonder if anyone's ever been precocious enough to name a project supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

  19. RonBass says:

    I spent my youth as a theoretical physicist, so my favorite project code name is "Spherical Cow" for Fedora 18.

  20. Chuck says:

    When we started my current company we decided we wanted our project names to have a theme. After casting around for a bit we decided on rock bands. We figured this had many advantages:

    1. A near-endless well of distinctive names, such that each major release could get its own band.
    2. We could assign different sub-genres to different products. The mapping product would get classic rock, the mobile viewer gets blues-rock, the design product get metal bands (for reasons simply related to the tastes of the personnel involved).

    3. For point releases we could use band member last names. Our 2.0 mapping product project was Zeppelin, 2.1 was Plant, 2.2 was Page, etc.

    The runner-up theme was "battles the French lost" but it only had the "near-endless well of names" factor going for it ;)

  21. DysgraphicProgrammer says:

    "we can't just keep calling it 'the other server'. We need a name"

    "How about the 'data collector'?" "No, 'data collator'"


    <15 minutes later>


    And a project name was born

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