Ten years ago this month, my secret Web browser team at Apple became the “Safari” team — less than 30 days before we debuted the product on January 7, 2003.
To this day, I don’t know who suggested the name “Safari.” I wasn’t in the room when the heavens split asunder and angels sounded forth as a choir singing that three-syllable benediction. But I had been part of the naming discussion before. Several times.
During the Summer of ‘02, Steve Jobs and the Apple management team realized that we were going to pull this off — we could actually ship a Web browser by the end of the year. And at one particularly good Human Interface design session, discussion turned to what we were going to call this — thing.
As I remember, Steve just started saying some names out loud — I suppose trying them out to see how they felt in his mouth and to his ears. Which is not as odd as it seemed then — it’s a good technique now that I think about it.
I don’t recall all the names, but one that stands out is “Freedom.” Steve spent some time trying that one out on all of us. He may have liked it because it invoked positive imagery of people being set free. And, just as possible and positive, it spoke to our own freedom from Microsoft and Internet Explorer, the company and browser we depended on at the time.
Of course, all I could think about was, “Please don’t let us name the browser after a feminine hygiene product!” But cooler heads and filthier minds prevailed. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in the room with that concern. So, after some discussion about its actual merits, “Freedom” moved off the candidate list.
From that point on, we had a brief discussion about the product name at random HI design sessions every month. Again, I don’t remember any particular name we talked about. They all sounded so awful to me that I’ve purged from my mind the trauma of imagining the browser being labeled with any of them. And the candidate names seemed to get worse the closer we got to shipping.
I’m not sure if any of the names I heard came from Steve after that initial session. I think he doomed some group in Marketing to iterate on them for awhile. And the few names I proposed were stinkers too. No one was without sin here.
Finally I stopped thinking about it because of more important things to worry about — like actually getting the engineering done. Which is what I was responsible for anyway.
Not all of my team had the ability to ignore the nameless elephant in the room like I did. They would pester me about what we were going to call it. No doubt caused in part by my mistake in telling them that it came up for discussion at the design meeting that they couldn’t attend. And their agitation got worse when December arrived.
For over a year, the internal name for the browser application was “Alexander.” I’ll write about how it got that handle another time. Not only had we gotten very used to calling it that, the string “Alexander” was all over the code and buried in its resources. So the engineering team wasn’t just curious about the real name, they were worried about correctly and completely changing the placeholder name at the last minute.
Someone early on, I don’t even remember if it was one of my team members, referred to the product as “iBrowse.” That stuck as a snarky alternate name we would use at times. It was never in the actual code, but it became part of an elaborate joke that appeared on our cryptic team shirt — yet another story I’ll save for later.
Anyway, when someone on the team would really annoy me about needing to know the final name, I would often say something like, “I’ve just heard from Scott Forstall and it’s ‘iBrowse’ for sure.” Which really meant, “Don’t bug me with that shit right now.” This is how to endear yourself to your engineers.
But eventually Steve chose a name for our browser.
It might have been during the second week of December that I walked out of Caffe Macs, our company cafeteria, heading back towards my office after having a fine lunch, when I saw Kurt Knight, the Marketing product manager, approaching.
I met Kurt in the middle of the Infinite Loop quad. He seemed excited and said he was looking for me.
“They’ve picked a name!”
I didn’t need anymore context than that. And immediately I tensed up like someone expecting to be hit in the face. All those shitty names I’d heard over the last few months came flooding back like sewer water.
“What… is it?” I asked with my teeth nearly clenched.
“Safari,” Kurt whispered.
I didn’t say anything. But Kurt must have noticed that I was more relaxed. “Dazed” as he described it to me later. Probably a little stupider looking than usual, too.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I honestly didn’t know what to think. My mind was a blank because I just didn’t expect it. The name seemed to come out of nowhere. It sounded more foreign at that moment than its actual origin.
“It doesn’t suck,” I finally offered.
And it didn’t. Slowly, slowly it was growing on me. Kurt and I stood there for a bit talking about “Safari.” And then we realized that was a very stupid thing to do right out in the open.
By the time I reached my office, I liked the name. Really liked it. I was committed. I could imagine seeing “Safari” in the Mac OS X dock. I had to tell the team right away and, if necessary, convince them that they liked it too. Fortunately, and to their credit, they didn’t need much convincing.
So, to whoever suggested the name “Safari,” thank you.