…and Why is it Called “Facebook?”

I suppose it makes sense, having looked at Instagram and Twitter the last few days, to have a last look at the names of the other main social media.

I feel like I’ve talked about Twitter before, but even if I haven’t, the name is pretty straightforward, referring to birdsong, appropriately enough for a platform featuring rapid-fire, short messages.

WhatsApp is also a fairly straightforward pun.

I can’t seem to find a record of how Snapchat’s creators came up with the name, but I can only assume it refers to the speed of communication they want to emphasise (in a snap). In fact, most social media have pretty straightforward names, without interesting stories behind them. LinkedIn for example, is pretty obvious: you’re LINKED IN to other people in your industry. It’s not surprising really. It’s not like these are like regular words, whose form and meaning developed over hundreds of years. Rather, these are business names, designed to be interesting, of course, but also quite straightforward and comprehensible, to make sure that as many people understand what the app/website is and does. It’s therefore unlikely that there’ll be an intriguing etymology behind any of them.

Facebook, though, seems to be the exception to this pattern. If you think about it, it’s not necessarily a logical name. Yes, Facebook does feature faces, lots of them in fact, but they’re hardly its main focus. And it doesn’t really resemble a book at all. If you attended an American university though, there’s a chance you’ve never found the name strange. In some American universities, a face book is a book filled with photographs of students and some limited biographical information. Quite literally face books (which often had online versions), they were meant to help students get to know each other (in Europe the college bar usually suffices for that).

As Harvard lacked an online face book for the entire university, Mark Zuckerberg created The Facebook as an unofficial version. Soon it spread to other universities, the The was dropped, and you probably know the rest. The most unusual thing about the name Facebook though, is the fact that I don’t recall ever actually thinking it was a strange name. I signed up in 2007, but I don’t think I ever thought about the name until 2010. That’s when I saw the film The Social Network, and I believe I learned the origin of the name, which made me aware that I’d never thought about it before.

I guess it’s simply because it’s a good name. Even if the two words don’t necessarily logically go together, they’re so common that putting them together doesn’t feel strange. And even more importantly, they’ve got a nice rhythm. Facebook, one stressed syllable, one unstressed. Up, down.  And something about the vowel sounds in that order works in a way that Bookface wouldn’t. It bypasses the logical part of the brain that should ask What on earth is a Facebook? and instead goes straight to that primitive part of the brain that responds to certain sounds on an instinctive level. And for all the layers of syntax or grammar that get layered onto a language, that’s basically how languages evolve, and what lies at the heart of them: sounds that we like.

14 thoughts on “…and Why is it Called “Facebook?”

  1. I love how you mention you weren’t aware that you hadn’t thought about its name until you watched The Social Network. That applies to so many things in life. We don’t question things. We grow up believing them to be absolute truths because everyone else does too. Then we have an epiphany. Have you read Vishen Lakhiani’s The Code of the Extraordinary Mind?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s very interesting about Facebook name origins. I have seen the film but don’t remember there being much in the way of a name explanation. I may have drinking wine though. You take photos on Snapchat (it’s also to blame for flower filters), so perhaps the snap also refers to “taking a snap.”

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