The Hidden Story Behind 15 Internet Retailer Names

By Ashley Watson, dealnews writer, and Beth Pinsker, dealnews Editorial Director

Stores have long been named for their founders, like Sears and Walmart; or for their original locations, like Burlington Coat Factory; or they have indulged the whimsy of their founders with something creative, like Starbucks. But once e-commerce came along, naming a new business became an exercise in utilitarianism and search engine optimization. Hence the rise of sites like and There are a few brave companies out there still forging ahead with creative names that don't immediately reveal the site's purpose. But what do the names mean?

We got the scoop on how these 15 sites bucked the trend and came up with their names:

    This company has been profiled so much since 1994 that many people know that Jeff Bezos originally picked the name Cadabra. He changed it as soon as a lawyer misheard the name as Cadaver. Bezos settled on Amazon because he wanted the name to evoke something huge, and because it starts with "A," it would show up near the beginning of alphabetical lists, giving his company an advantage.

  2. Because the egg is a traditional and recognizable symbol of birth and potential, the founders of the company selected "Newegg" as the company name to "signify new hope for e-commerce during a period when e-commerce businesses were struggling to survive." The egg logo represents the company's name, hope for the future and "unlimited potential" of e-commerce.

    Launched in November 2006 by the Gap to offer shoes, Piperlime's name comes from a random choice of words. In an August 1, 2006, USA Today article, Gap Inc. Direct president Toby Lenk said, "We thought of words we liked and put them together. We loved 'piper' as a word, and we loved 'lime,' and it's really as simple as that." To get across the point, the company's logo uses the image of the cut side of a lime to represent the last part of the company name.

    While it seems like an upstart Web-only electronics retailer that sounds like it's named after a place, the company was actually started in 1974 as a mail order and catalog business for stereo equipment. And the name comes from founder Bill Crutchfield, who is now in the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame, along with the founder of electronics, Thomas Edison.

    While the company was founded in 1790, it didn't get its current name until nearly 100 years later, when one of the co-founders, George Wood, was watching a play about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The venerable company has transformed many times over the years. Since 1996, it has been an employee-owned mail order and Internet business based in Vermont.

    If you've got even a little knowledge of Spanish, you're probably aware that Zappos is derived from the Spanish word for "shoe," zapatos. Founder Nick Swinmurn was focused on his feet when he launched the site in 1999, after a frustrating shoe shopping experience in a San Francisco mall led him to look on the Web for the size he needed. When he couldn't find what he was looking for, he started his own company. now offers clothing, jewelry and other accessories in addition to many kinds of shoes.

    Karmaloop, for those not in the loop, is an online reseller of name brand underground street wear and fashion, based in Boston. The name came about when a friend of founder Greg Selkoe presented him with a stained-glass artwork with the words "Karma Loop." Selkoe liked the way it sounded so much that he named the company after it when he launched it from his parents' basement in 2000.

    Telling the story of how Etsy got its name is starting to become a Web geek parlor game. Etsy founder Rokali (a.k.a. Robert Kalin) has been so coy about the rationale behind the name that people regularly come up with their own versions of the story. The only documentation out there is what's on the site's own Wiki page: "Etsy was born on June 18th, 2005. The name comes from my favorite childhood movie, Fellini's 8 1/2. Or it comes from somewhere else."

    While the company is named after a person, it is not named after either of the founders, Gun Andersson and the late Tom Denhart. Instead, it's named after Gun's grandmother Hanna, who inspired them to bring fine Swedish clothing traditions to America. The high-end children's clothing purveyor, now owned by a private equity group, started as a mail order business in the family garage in Oregon and now includes physical stores, outlets and the website.

    If Appleseeds sold apple seeds, we wouldn't have included it on this list, because the name would have been one of those utilitarian choices. But this seller of women's clothing has nothing to do with the growing of food, other than to be named after folk hero Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed's was the name of the original store opened in 1946 in Beverly, Mass., but it got truncated along the way. The privately-owned chain still has retail locations in the Massachusetts area but also has a nationwide presence on the Web.

    Once a household name as an ice cream brand, Schwan's is now a Web purveyor of frozen entrees and other foods (and a sponsor of challenges on some seasons of Bravo's Top Chef). The company, which was founded in 1952, is simply named after its founder, Marvin Schwan. While that might not seem like much of a story if you are over the age of 50 and remember the brand, it is something of a novelty in this Internet age, where Roebuck is a dusty name from the past and J.C. Penney has lost his initials.

    If you guessed that this coffee company got its name from its founder, you'd have to guess again. And no, it's not a made up, foreign-sounding word like Häagen-Daaz. Well, sort of. Keurig, which is owned by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (named for the Green Mountains of Vermont, where the company started in 1980), says the name is derived from the Dutch word for "excellence," and much like Zappos, it is borrowing from another language to get across a thought about its product.

    You'd expect a sassy name from a sassy product, and that's exactly how Spanx ended up being called what it is. Founder Sara Blakeley came up with the product, a tight footless, pantyhose-like garment for women that holds in bulging areas, out of necessity. When she started working on the marketing, she wanted a name that was edgy, and she got it. The tagline was "We've got your butt covered." The product is now sold through a variety of retailers and also directly from the company's website.

    In the literal Internet world, you might think this site sold, ahem, red envelopes, but it actually sells a variety of high-end gifts. The name comes from the Asian tradition of giving gifts in a simple red envelope and the belief that red is a symbol of happiness. Founded in 1999, the site is now owned by a private equity company that also owns ProFlowers (yes, they sell flowers), Cherry Moon Farms (a gift basket seller) and Shari's Berries (seller of dipped berries).

    Founder Paul Thelen chose the name for his online game company because he loved the irony — since the one-person company was hardly a "big fish" at the time. Thelen hired a graphic designer to create a logo featuring a cute fish, now beloved by customers as "Felix," and, to further the irony, superimposed the name over a world globe. Today, "Felix represents fun and relaxation for our worldwide audience of people who enjoy our games because they make them feel good."

Curious about the origin of any other Internet retailers' names? Send us a note on Facebook or Twitter, and we'll check it out for you.

Beth Pinsker is dealnews' Editorial Director. She was most recently the Editor of and has been a life-long bargain hunter. Follow her on Twitter — @bethpinsker. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


Leave a comment!

or Register