How to name a web browser (by those who have)


I don’t know about you, but my web browser is the second app I launch every day (just after email). In fact, overall, I probably spend more time using it than pretty much anything else (not surprising considering what I do). But it got me wondering, where do the different browser names come from? So I did some digging.

Internet Explorer

(Technically Microsoft Internet Explorer and later Windows Internet Explorer)

When you look back to 1995, having a name that gave people a clear idea of what the product did was probably a good idea. Especially when most people were just becoming aware of this Internet-thing and wanted to know how to get involved.

Explorer was chosen to convey the freedom and possibilities opened up by the Web. It was very much inline with Microsoft’s former tagline, “Where do you want to go today?”

Netscape Navigator

For many people, Navigator was their first web browser. It was based on the earlier Mosaic browser. I’m not 100% sure why Mosaic was so named but I suspect it was because it was the first to allow images and text to appear on the same page. Alternatively, I guess it could be some riff on the whole rich tapestry of the web. Anyway, Navigator was the first product from Netscape after it changed its name from Mosaic Communications Corporation (co-founder and co-writer of Mosaic, Marc Andreessen, had to abandon the Mosaic name after his former university raised objections). Like IE, Navigator was a pretty descriptive approach to naming.

Mozilla

(The people behind Firefox)

No one can claim that Mozilla took the descriptive approach. In fact Mozilla was used for some time as an internal codename for Netscape Navigator. The name was the brainchild of Jamie Zawinski and has more meaning than most people realise. Mozilla is actually a combination of “Mosaic killer” which neatly summed up their mission at the time (or so I thought). So I guess that worked out well for them.

Firefox

Most people forget that Firefox wasn’t originally called Firefox at all. In fact it’s had a couple of name changes over the years. It was originally called Phoenix – presumably coming from the ashes of its predecessors. But that caused trademark issues with Phoenix Technologies. So Mozilla changed it to Firebird, which caused issues with the Firebird open source database project (there’s a pattern forming here). So, after consulting some lawyers this time, they settled on Firefox (which is actually another name for the red panda and nothing to do with any mythical bird).

Safari

Now I could go down the route of talking about Safari as fitting in with Apple’s big cat names (Panther, Lion, Snow Leopard, Tiger etc) – but I’m not certain. For the life of me, I can’t find out why Safari was chosen – although it fits in to the same general category as Explorer and Navigator (and the compass icon backs this up). If you know why it was named Safari, please drop a comment below.

Opera

Opera were kind enough to explain their naming (although the page is now only available via archive.org):

The reasons the name “Opera” was chosen are several. For one, “Opera” is known as the opera all over the world. London, Paris and Moscow all have Operas, and it’s one thing that has long historical roots in almost the entire world. Secondly, the Opera is associated with quality and high standards – you never hear of Opera singers who go on a drunken spree… 😉 Thirdly, the Opera is fun. (Or at least, it’s meant to be for the people who don’t have prejudices against it for being snobby and upper class-only.)

Chrome

While there was a codename vote early in Chrome’s development, none were finally chosen (I’d love to know what they were). Instead, it’s said by Glen Murphy that they chose Chrome because one of the design leads liked fast cars. They then ended up sticking with the codename for the final project launch because 1. they’d grown used to it, 2. they associated it with speed and, 3. because it minimised the amount of browser UI (sometimes called chrome).

While I’m missing out more than a few, that’s all the main browsers covered. If you have any insights that I’ve missed, pop them in the comments below. Also, if you know any names that didn’t make it to the final cut for any of the above, I’d love to hear about them.

More Reading

One of the commenters below mentioned Ariya Hidayat’s blog on the same subject, it’s an interesting read and contains some the historical context around the history of some of these names, you can check it out here.

[1] Sadly it seems that the Mosaic Killer name is only partially true. In the Sunday, 5 August 1994, extract of Jamie Zawinski’s Diary he said “Then someone said something about crushing NCSA Mosaic, and I blurted out “Mozilla!” Everyone seemed to like that, so I think that might end up being the official name of the browser. ” I found this update on this blog from 2007. Thanks to a comment on this blog from 2007 for clearing that up.

Comments (32)

  1. Bill says:

    Youve prob had this already, but surely Safari got its name from some child of the sixties that went real surfing? California, Beach Boys etc. Lets go surfin now, come on a safari with me … Surfing Safari?

  2. thebeebs says:

    Bill I had never thought of that before, great theory.

  3. Schepp says:

    Wasn't "Mozilla" rather a compound of "Mosaic" and "Godzilla"? Hence the Godzilla appearing everywhere?

  4. Piers says:

    I thought Chrome came from the open source Chromium project and got its name from there. Although I might be wrong and the Chromium project stemmed from the Chrome browser. But I'm pretty sure it's the former.

  5. David Storey says:

    I'm pretty sure Safari was named after the beach boys song Surfin' safari. Their blog is also called that.

    I was told that Opera was named that as it was a word commonly found in most languages, and that Opera means "work" in Italian.

  6. Paul Verhoeven says:

    The name "Konqueror" is a reference to the two primary competitors at the time of the browser's first release: "first comes the Navigator, then Explorer, and then the Konqueror". It also follows the KDE naming convention: the names of most KDE programs begin with the letter K.

  7. thebeebs says:

    @bill @Dave Storey I like the Surfin' name reason. Trying to verify it. It seems to be to be the most likly for the name. But I need better evidence. The oldest issue I can find of the surfin' safari blog is 31st Jan 2003: web.archive.org/…/2003_01.html So the browser (released on the 7th of January 2003) predates the blog. Therefore I'm not sure if the blog name is just a light hearted take on the Safari name, or if it gives us some insight into the browser name. I can't find any other evidence.

  8. Jonas says:

    Schepp: I've also heard the "Mosaic killa" combination, and think the Godzilla logo was only chosen because the combination ended up sounding like "Godzilla".

  9. Peter Hanley says:

    "Thirdly, the Opera is fun. (Or at least, it's meant to be for the people who don't have prejudices against it for being snobby and upper class-only.)"

    It's ironic that the prejudices described seem to have transferred themselves to the product.  I'm not sure it's deserved, but web I read the above sentence my first thought was "huh, just like the browser"  

  10. The word "safari" is Swahili for "a journey". Maybe the developers thought that the browser was supposed to take you on a journey of discovery?

  11. MyClothesOn says:

    Maxthon?

  12. Greg says:

    I was told that there was a company called "heartsoft" that wrote a children's simplified browser called "Internet Safari".  That business wasn't successful but the name and other products such as the browser was sold off. Perhaps ending up at Apple?

  13. NRC says:

    The first time I read about Opera, I misread it as Oprah. It is now forever stuck in my head as The Oprah Winfrey browser.

  14. thebeebs says:

    @nrc Opera actually receive a lot of email intended for Oprah Winfrey: my.opera.com/…/oprah-winfrey-we-will-miss-you

  15. chuck says:

    I'd like to know why Firefox's UI is called chrome, because it's strange that that exists, and there is also a browser called Chrome.

  16. thebeebs says:

    @chuck Chrome is a common name for the UI in all sorts of applications. You will often hear us at Microsoft refer to the UI in Applications as Chrome too. It's not exclusive to web browsers and is common across software development in general. http://www.catb.org/…/chrome.html

  17. Thomas says:

    I'm sure chrome, as someone above noted, is connected with chromium, which was originally a 3d operating system that Eric Engstrom developed at microsoft. there is an interesting story conected with it told in "Renegades of the Empire".

  18. Xelliz says:

    I find it odd that the people at Google linked chrome to fast cars.  I know a lot of the old school rodders like the chrome accents on their classic and add chrome wheels to their more modern cars, but for me and most of the people I know, we associate chrome with "pimp" or "G" rides…not our race cars or just fast ones in general.  My father for instance replaced the factory wheels on his 99 Cobra with chrome ones, but I prefer anything but chrome wheels on my mustangs.

  19. TechnoSparks says:

    They called it Safari maybe because of we took a tour throuhout the web. ((My site) http://greenwap.wapgem.com)

  20. troll says:

    OMG! this page lacks trolls….

  21. Renny says:

    You have to wonder whether Apple considered the name iBrowse.

  22. morr says:

    @Renny IBrowse was already taken (en.wikipedia.org/…/IBrowse). OTOH, it didn't stopped them from using IOS as name of their system.

  23. Ahmad says:

    its really nice to know the reason of naming for each of these browsers,

    i thought its only names, but it turned that i was wrong,

    Each one has it own story 🙂

  24. lerato says:

    i love opra and i dont know to use it.my friend told me about it help.

    .

  25. John Cowan says:

    Ahmad: Every name has its own story.  Yours is "one who thanks God" and mine is "John, son of John" (though my father was actually named Thomas), where "John" means "God is gracious".

  26. Pelfking says:

    These aren't WEB browsers, they're INTERNET browsers. The web protocol (HTTP) is only one of many that can be accessed using these tools.

  27. oneblankspace says:

    I assume Lynx was named because of the links?

  28. pin says:

    There are many good but <a href="pinappu.hubpages.com/hub/5-Unknown-Web-Browsers-that-are-worth-a-try"> unknown web browsers.</a>

  29. awards says:

    Yeah, whether Apple considered the name iBrowse.

    http://www.okawards.com

  30. Harry Mulligan says:

    Didn't The Beatles have a record label called Apple Corps? What happened then did they sell the name to Steve Jobs?

  31. chloethompson says:

    However…some are ore safe than others…make it your decision to find the Best One for your Ability and usefulness

    I Prefer…

    http://www.slimbrowser.net