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Why is Google Called Google?

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We talk about Google a lot; so much so that the word “Google” has become a verb. For example, if you don’t know something, you can say that you’ll “Google it,” using the word as a way to describe an action.

The word Google has become so popular, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook how silly the word sounds. Think about it; it’s one letter off the word “googly,” which is very silly by itself. Yet Google has made such a big name for itself, that big important people say the word without batting an eyelid. So, how did Google get its weird name?

To answer this, we need to go back when Google was first invented when it wasn’t even called “Google” yet. Two Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, wanted to make a brand new search engine. There were a few already around, but Larry and Sergey wanted to make one that worked a different way.

Back then, search engines took your search term and found websites that contained that term the most. For example, if you typed in “honeybee facts,” the search engines at the time would find the webpage that contained the phrase “honeybee facts” the most and put that at the top. However, this was no guarantee that the webpage was actually good!

Larry and Sergey wanted to use a “recommendation” system for their search engine. Instead of just using the number of times the phrase appeared on a webpage, it also looked at how many websites linked to that webpage.

If one page was filled with the phrase “honeybee facts” but nobody was linking to it, it probably wasn’t any good. On the other hand, a webpage that isn’t as filled with the phrased “honeybee facts” but is linked to by websites all over the internet, that probably means that it’s a good webpage and should be recommended higher. After all, if it were bad, why would people be showing it to other people?

These links to the webpage are called “backlinks,” and Larry and Sergey created an algorithm called “PageRank” that analyzed how much a specific webpage is linked to across the internet. The more links, the more likely that the webpage is worth a read, and the higher its PageRank is.

This system was very useful, so Larry and Sergey first wanted to name their search engine after their backlink technology. Unfortunately, their proposed name was even sillier than Google; they wanted to call it “BackRub” at first. Can you imagine if it kept that name? People would say things like “I don’t know much about honeybees, let me BackRub that.” Weird!

Fortunately, Larry and Sergey realized how silly it was, and had a brainstorming session for a new name. One idea that came up was that they named the search engine after the name of a large number. Their search engine went through a lot of webpages to figure out which webpages linked to where, so they wanted a name that represented all these pages they had data on.

So, what large number did they pick? They could have picked Hundred, Thousand, Million, Billion, maybe even Trillion. These are all large numbers, but the developers wanted to go even further. They wanted to call their search engine “Googol,” which is the name of the number 1 followed by a hundred 0s. It’s a huge number; so huge, it looks like this:

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Sharp-eyed readers would have spotted that “Googol” looks a lot like “Google.” The reason why the ending is different is because one of Larry and Sergey’s friends, Sean, looked up the domain name for their search engine to check if it was available to buy. He didn’t know how to spell “Googol” correctly, so he went with what it sounded like; “Google.”

Sean reported that Google.com was free, but not without Larry pointing out that he had spelled googol wrong. However, on second thought, Larry liked the slight twist on the name, and decided to keep it after all.

So there you go; the weird story behind Google’s name, which was almost called “BackRub,” and eventually named after a misspelling of another word.

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