It’s been around for 20 years. We see the name and iconic logo on virtually every device we own — Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth speakers, even Bluetooth-enabled toothbrushes.
As is the case with most product names we encounter every day, we often take for granted that they are just called what they are called. A frappuccino is a frappuccino because it sounds tasty, right? Actually, it’s a frozen cappuccino. WiFi may just seem like a funky word for the life-sustaining force that makes internet browsing possible, but it’s actually short for “Wireless Fidelity.”
What about Bluetooth? What is the so-obvious-it’s-funny explanation for the technology that made you think strangers on the bus were talking to you when in reality they were just on the phone?
As it turns out, Bluetooth is named after a 10th-century Scandinavian king.
Harald “Blåtand” Gormsson was a viking king who ruled Denmark and Norway from the year 958 until 985. There are many accomplishments credited to him, but greatest of all is that he united Denmark and Norway under his rule.
Gormsson was also known for his dead tooth, which had a very dark blue/grey shade. It was so prominent that his nickname was Blåtand, which literally translates from Danish to “Bluetooth.”
But what could this possibly have to do a wireless technology that lets you use a hands-free headset while you drive?
Fast-forward a little over 1,000 years to 1996, and short-range radio technology was in its very early stages — Intel had a program called Biz-RF, the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson had MC-Link, and Nokia had Low Power RF. The three powerhouses quickly recognised that the best way to drive the technology forward within the industry and avoid fragmentation would be to create a single wireless standard.
In December of that year, representatives from each group met at the Ericsson plant in Lund, Sweden to plan their industry-standard technology. Before they could get started, however, they decided that they needed a codename for the project while it was in development.
Intel representative Jim Kardash suggested that the temporary name be “Bluetooth,” and his reasoning was simple.
“King Harald Bluetooth … was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link,” he wrote in a blog post.
Later on, when the technology was nearly finalised and it was time to choose a permanent name, Kardash explained that Bluetooth wasn’t even in the running.
The two top contenders were RadioWire (the Intel proposal) and PAN (for Personal Area Networking, the IBM proposal).
In April we held our board meeting and voted for the official name which went to PAN in a 4-1 vote. At this point everybody started using the name PAN and we were driving towards the launch event which would occur in about four weeks.
About a week later, an emergency meeting was called. The other member companies had performed a trademark search on the word PAN and surmised that this would be a poor candidate for a trademark: an internet search produced tens of thousands of hits.
It turned out that no trademark search was done on the backup name (Radio Wire) and the only name we could go to launch with on short notice was Bluetooth!
Somehow, the Bluetooth origin story doesn’t end there. Once the technology had an official name, it also needed a logo.
“But isn’t the Bluetooth logo just a ‘B’ written in a tacky ’90s font?” I imagine you’re asking right now.
No, it’s not.
That “B” logo is actually ol’ King Blåtand’s initials written in ancient Danish runes.
So, there you have it. Bluetooth is called Bluetooth because its developers were big history nerds and they couldn’t come up with a better idea.