Siri. Alexa. Google. Cortana – The digital assistants created by the tech companies have become such a huge part of our lives, but you may have never considered why we call them the names we do.
When a tech company names its digital assistant, it considers many things including an easy to remember but a unique enough name. All of these assistants also share another characteristic: They all have female voices, at least by default.
Lets dig in to a little background to find out how these digital assistants got their names.
The goal, to create Alexa, was to create a device able to “replicate the Star Trek computers,” which could respond to any command – according to David Limp, the senior vice president at Amazon overseeing Alexa.
“We did go through a number of names,” Limp said during the Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference last year.
“There’s computer science behind it, too … it only wakes up when it hears the word ‘Alexa,’ and the phonics of that word and how that word is parsed and the fact that it has a hard consonant with the X in it, is important in making sure that it wakes up only when it’s asked for.”
According to the Social Security Administration, the name “Alexa” ranked 32 on its list of the 1,000 most popular names in 2015 — up from 63 the year before — with 6,029 newborns sharing a name with Amazon’s assistant.
This, naming people after Alexa, can also be problematic, which is why Amazon allows two other “wake words” to be used: Amazon or Echo.
Apple’s digital assistant – probably the most used assistant in the World – was spun out from the research institute SRI International in 2007.
Later it caught the attention of Steve Jobs and Apple acquired the company in 2010. The story of the Siri name dates back to the company’s early days as a startup.
“As a startup, when coming up with Siri’s name, we wanted something that was easy to remember, short to type, comfortable to pronounce, and a not-too-common human name. And we wanted to be able to get the domain name for not too much money,” Siri co-founder Adam Cheyer, recalled in a post on Quora.
Siri’s Norwegian CEO Dig Kittlaus was also a fan of the name because it meant “beautiful woman who leads you to victory” in Norse.
Reportedly, Steve Jobs disliked the name but the company kept it because they couldn’t find a better alternative.
“It was all a big surprise for the team that Apple decided to keep the original Siri name for its launch as part of iOS. There were other candidates that were leading, up until the final weeks,” Cheyer says.
Microsoft’s Assistant was never meant to be called Cortana. Halo, Cortana was simply the internal code-name given to the project in its earliest days – Later which became its permanent name.
“It was just a codename to begin,” recalls Deborah Harrison, an early member of Cortana’s editorial team. “Code-names don’t tend to be the ones that ship.”
The company got “an unexpectedly warm response to the idea of a digital assistant named Cortana from the people who were familiar with the game,” Harrison told Mashable.
Microsoft also considered the name Naomi or Alyx – but eventually Cortana was finalized and made her debut in April 2014.
Previously called Google Now, Google Assistant stands out for having a name after the company, unlike all the other assistants.
“We’re calling this your Google Assistant because we fundamentally think of it as an extension and evolution of Google itself, not so much as a new, separate product,” a Google spokesperson told Mashable.
Instead, the assistant, which lives in the company’s Google Home speaker, Pixel phones and its messaging app Allo, is meant to be be a hyper-personalized and extra helpful version of the Google services you already use. “Your own personal Google” as the company’s tagline says.
Samsung, which acquired Siri creators’ startup Viv, is rumored to have a new assistant name Bixby. Nokia might be working on its own assistant named Viki and Facebook is also working on an assistant named – M, which only a few Facebook users have access to.