How programming languages got their names?

Throughout history, countless programming languages have been created, but not all of them had the privilege to become “high level” and to be used in our everyday life. Needless to say, the ones that made it this far are those who are shaping our presence and future, but did their inventors had difficulties while trying to name them?  


What does music, coffee, or TV shows have to do with computers?  


In this post, we are going to find an answer to this question by revealing the name history of the 5 most common programming languages.  



The “C” Family  

Developed by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs almost fifty years ago, C is considered by many to be the first high-level language. This code has influenced many other languages, including RubyC#JavaJavaScriptPerlPHP, and Python. The reason why the language was named “C” by its creator was that it came after B language, according to Fossybytes. Back then, Bell Labs already had a programming language called “B” at their disposal. Ten years later, an extension of the C language was developed – called C ++.  According to Medium, its name perfectly reflects the origin of the extension, which in this case refers to “increment C by 1”. However, the most interesting story hides behind the third member of this family, C#. The name of this language created by Microsoft in 1988 was inspired by musical notation! In this case, a sharp symbol indicates that the written note should be made a semitone higher in pitch. Even though these languages did not have the same inventor, it seems like they all followed one simple rule when it came to naming them – highlight the improvement of the existing ones.  




Back in 1995, when James Gosling developed Java as a core component of Sun Microsystems’ Java platform, nobody thought that there will be a cup of coffee logo standing next to it or becoming one of the most well-known coffee cups in the world twenty years later. This epilogue was a result of a long brainstorming session among Gosling and his colleagues in the late 90s. JavaWorld decided to interview all the participants in order to find out why they decided to name this programming language after Indonesian coffee. According to this interview, after countless ideas and the fact that the initial name “Oak” was already taken, “It came down to Silk or Java, and Java won out”. One of their colleagues was constantly walking around with a cup of coffee in his hands and all the people they asked for opinion opted for Java instead of Silk, which gave them a perfect combination of an exotic Indonesian island known for its coffee and an equally appealing and dynamic name for their programming language. If we take into account the fact that various factors impacted this final result, it seems like the name Java was meant to be from the very beginning.  



This mighty programming language used by various world-class software companies was created almost thirty years ago by a Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum. The first thing that comes up to our mind if we take a look at its name and logo leads us to the simple conclusion that the world’s scariest snake stands behind the brand. And this is not a mistake, if we also take a look at the etymology of the Greek word python, whose meaning is “a large, heavy-bodied, non-venomous snake”. Apart from Greeks, the word Python was also used by British comedians when they created a comedy called “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, which happened to be our programmer’s favorite TV show at the time he was developing Python. Another thing that proves this theory right is the fact that several Monty Python references appear frequently in this programming language’s code and culture. 



Larry Wall, creator of the world’s best programming language for Text Manipulation Perl also had difficulties when he tried to come up with a perfect name for his product. Just like everyone else, his idea was to find a positive and short, yet memorable solution but the majority of names were already occupied by other developers. According to Marjorie Richardson in Larry Wall, the Guru of Perlhe even thought about naming his language after his wife Gloria. In this interview, the creator himself cleared all the doubts and explained how he came up with the final solution: “Eventually I came up with the name “pearl”, with the gloss Practical Extraction and Report Language. The “a” was still in the name when I made that one up. But I heard rumors of some obscure graphics language named “pearl”, so I shortened it to “perl”. (The “a” had already disappeared by the time I gave Perl its alternate gloss, Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister.)” On the other hand, the camel that appears on the language’s logo symbolizes intelligence, patience, and ability to adapt to harsh conditions – a description of people capable of coding in Perl! 



After its creation in 1995 by Japanese developer Yukihiro Matsumoto, Ruby was described as a language whose philosophy was “to make programming productive and fun, by placing human needs above computer needs”. This sounds great from our perspective; each programming language should be fun! But what diamonds (again) have to do with that? Is this somehow related to Perl which at the time Ruby was invented, was already 8 years old? According to an article from (developed with Ruby), the answer is yes. Since this programming language was already influenced by Perl regarding its functions, Matsumoto wanted to rely on the success of Perl’s name but initially could not decide between “Coral” and “Ruby”. Another brainstorming session was needed in order to make the final decision. The developer himself discovered later that the reason why he opted for Ruby lies in the fact that this was the birthstone of one of his colleagues.  




We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the etymology and history of these programming languages! 

Feel free to share with us other interesting facts that we didn’t mention in this post.  


Thank you for reading! 


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