Alphabet is the worst name the new Google could have chosen

In a surprise statement on Monday, Google announced it will subordinate itself to a newly created parent company named Alphabet, whose holdings will include former Google departments like its experimental research and fibre optics arms.

The tech world immediately went aflutter in an attempt to explain the restructuring – while accepting with a straight face the craziest part of the whole deal: its name. Alphabet?

“One of humanity’s most important innovations,” wrote Larry Page, the umbrella company’s CEO. Other considerations we should be thankful they didn’t go with: Wheel. Fire. Antibiotics.

But then those would never have worked – too small. Alphabet is undeniably a savvy name, larded with symbolism, freighted with meaning. What, exactly? Anything and everything: it’s the alphabet!

It’s “the core of how we index with Google search”, Page added. “We also like that it means alpha-bet which we strive for!” (Alpha is investment return above benchmark.) So many interpretations.

Play for universality

The problem with the name Alphabet is that it is banal to an astonishing degree, a play for universality that ends up meaning nothing at all.

What dooms it is the distance between how flat the word is aesthetically (say it fast 10 times and watch your mood drop), and its naked ambition as a marker of greatness, the kind you get when you ask your nephew, “What kind of superpower do you want?” and he replies, “All of them!” Your nephew is 17.

Compare the plodding, striving, uncool Alphabet with its subsidiary, the Dadaist Google, which as the story goes is a bastardisation of Googol, itself a word invented by a child. It technically means nothing yet suggests so much – magic, mathematics, play.

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