The Origin of Programming Language Names!

September 27th, 2013 | Articles, Job Search | No Comments »

silly walks

Plenty of programming languages have names whose origins aren’t shrouded in all that much mystery. They’re logical acronyms devised by logical people to announce exactly what the programming language will help you to achieve (HTML as the HyperText Markup Language, CSS as Cascading Style Sheets, SQL as the Structure Query Language, etc). Each exists as a strictly functional label. Sometimes though, an epiphany seems to strike these coding language cartographers, like an asteroid smashing into a planet, as they sit down to name the languages and commands they’ve charted out. When that happens, we get the weird menagerie of programming language names that litter the IT world. Here are a few, both common and esoteric, that have a flair for the creative.


If you look at the Python logo, you may erroneously assume that the intertwined snakes are a sign that the language was designed by a bunch of serpent enthusiasts. You’d be wrong. The original developer, Guido Van Rossum, was a huge fan of the irreverent, seminal British sketch comedy “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” When in development, he wanted to give the language a name that conveyed its fun side and for that, the comedy troop that kept him in stitches seemed like a shoe-in. In fact, another Monty Python Easter egg hidden is within the language: the standard tutorial and reference examples of foo and bar are replaced instead by spam and eggs (an allusion to the famous Monty Python SPAM sketch).


This programming language name stems from the quest for brevity. Larry Wall wanted something short, positive, and with a bit of bite. Nothing over five letters was even in the running. Wall burnt through and rejected every three and four letter word in the dictionary, ultimately settling on the five letter “Pearl.” Before the official release, he learned about the already existing PEARL language, lobbed off the “a” on his own invention, and called it a day.


The name for Ruby actually predates any of the code actually written for the language. Yukihiro Matsumoto, the designer and developer behind the programming language, was looking to write a language with more scripting power than Perl and more object-oriented capabilities than Python. During an online chat session with colleague Keiju Ishitsuka, a few names were tossed around between the two programmers. Of those names, the frontrunners were Ruby and Coral. Obviously, Ruby ended up winning that rumble but the rationale is a little shaky. Matsumoto often attributes its victory to the fact that one of his other colleagues had the ruby for a birthstone but there might be more to the story than we will ever know.


This early programming language is a nod to Blaise Pascal, the famous inventor and mathematician. Pascal was a Renaissance Man who dabbled in a little bit of everything but earned the majority of his fame for his contributions to mathematics, probability, and projective geometry – most of which he developed during his adolescent years. This wunderkind also built one of the first mechanical calculators of its time, setting the gears in motion for digital computation centuries in the future.

by James Walsh

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