Why is it Called Java? The Origins of Computer Programming Languages

September 6th, 2013 | Food for Thought, Job Search, Resume | No Comments »

origins of programming languages

There is quite a large difference between Java, the programming language, and Java, the Indonesian hot beverage from the island of Javanese, yet both share the same title. In fact, many programming languages have names that don’t seem to make any sense. So how did these languages get their names? After a bit of research, we finally have some answers.


The origin of the Java language began in 1991 when Sun Microsystems’ lead architect James Gosling, along with coworkers Mike Sheridan and Patrick Naughton, designed it for use in interactive television. Because the language was far too advanced for the digital output of cable television of the time, its implementation was deferred and it was redesigned to be used in other platforms.

Originally called Oak, after the tree that stood outside of Gosling’s office, the name was changed because of a copyright already owned by Oak technologies. Other names that were considered were Green, DNA, Silk, Neon, Pepper, Lyric, NetProse, WRL (WebRunner Language), WebDancer, and WebSpinner. The team was looking for something fresh and wanted to avoid so called “nerdy names” with Net or Web in them. It is highly contested who actually suggested the name Java, which reflected the teams’ love for coffee, but they eventually agreed upon the now famous moniker.


This general purpose coding language was developed by Dennis Ritchie of AT&T Bell Labs sometime in the late 1960s to early 1970s. As one of the most widely used languages of all time, C has spawned multiple variants that are widely used in the coding world today.

As interesting as the capabilities of C may be, its origin story is not something that will be championed as the greatest story ever told. Simply put, C is called C because, well, it came after B. Exhilarating, I know, but that’s really all there is to it. Ritchie, along with Ken Thompson (inventor of the B programming language) developed the language because of B’s inability to utilize some of the finer features (notably byte addressability) of the new 16 bit microcomputer PDP-11, which was released in 1970.


Another creation from Bell Labs, C++ is the brainchild of developer Bjarne Stroustrup. In 1979, while Stroustrup was working on his PH.D Thesis, the developer found that the object-oriented paradigm used in Simula 67 (the first OOP language) was far too slow for any type of practical use. He eventually began work on a variant of the C language, which was originally called “new C”, but was eventually changed to “C with Classes”.

Over the years, numerous features were added to the language and its name was changed by Rick Mascitti in 1983 to C++, which incorporated the “++” as an operator for increasing a variable. Although C++ is one of the preferred programming languages it is not lacking in critics. The name itself is considered a bug and remains the butt of jokes because of its use of the post-increment “++”, which increments the value of the variable but evaluates to the unincremented value. Thus its name should read ++C.


Originally developed in the 1980s by Brad Cox and Tom Love for their company StepStone, Objective-C didn’t gain major notoriety until Steve Jobs licensed it for his company NeXT in 1988. Objective-C soon become the primary language for the NeXSTEP operating system and has since been adopted to its derivations, iOS and OS X. Because of the surge in mobile apps, Objective-C is now one of the more popular languages used by developers today.

Looking to add capabilities of the object-oriented language Smalltalk to the C language, Cox began working on an extension called Object-Oriented Pre-Compiler, which would lay the foundation for Objective-C, and its name derives from the object-oriented nature of the language.


Installed on more than 244 million websites and 2.1 million servers, the server side scripting language, PHP is one of the most successful web languages out there. Originally titled “Personal Home Page”, PHP was first developed when Rasmus Lerdorf wrote a set of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) Perl scripts to maintain his personal homepage. After rewriting the scripts to include more C functionality, the name was changed to “Personal Home Page/Forms Interpreter” (PHP/FI).

The language has been rewritten by several times over the years, once in 1997 by Andi Gutmans and Zev Suraki, and two more times at the turn of the Millennium in 2000. As the language changed over the years, so did its name. The abbreviation PHP now stands for “Hypertext Processor”. So why not HP? The abbreviation “PHP” is a recursive acronym (one that refers to itself in the expression for which it stands). Some others examples in the tech world are meant to be humorous by referring to other programs, operating systems, and languages (e.g. GNU = GNU’s Not Unix).

By Kevin Withers

Image courtesy of Dominic’s pics via Flickr