Who Named the Kindle (and Why)?

Ever wonder what Kindle, the name of the Amazon “e-book,” means and where it come from? Well, even if you didn’t, I’m going to tell you. The name was conceived by San Francisco designer Michael Cronan and according to his wife and partner Karen Hibma, this is how it was coined:

About three years ago, Cronan was asked by Lab126, an Amazon.com company, to name a consumer product line, which turned out to be the Kindle. Hibma says, “Michael came up with the name through our usual practice of exploring the depths of what the potential for the new product and product line could be and how the company wanted to present it. Jeff [Bezos, the CEO] wanted to talk about the future of reading, but in a small, not braggadocio way. We didn’t want it to be ‘techie’ or trite, and we wanted it to be memorable, and meaningful in many ways of expression, from ‘I love curling up with my Kindle to read a new book’ to ‘When I’m stuck in the airport or on line, I can Kindle my newspaper, favorite blogs or half a dozen books I’m reading.’”

Kindle means to set alight or start to burn, to arouse or be aroused, to make or become bright. The word’s roots are from the Old Norse word kyndill, meaning Candle. “I verified that it had deep roots in literature,” adds Hibma. “From Voltaire: ‘The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all.’” No other name could hold a candle to Kindle.

Cronan also named TIVO (and designed the logo) and currently has an exhibition of his paintings, “Sibyls and Prophets from the Sistine Chapel,” at Vintage Berkeley, 2113 Vine St., Berkeley, California, until January 17.


About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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