Tag: googol

How did they think of the name ‘Google’?

How did they think of the name ‘Google’?

You may well have heard of a thing called the World Wide Web, and no doubt also of the remarkable search engine called ‘Google’ which has wrapped its tentacles around the information content of the world. Google is a curious name for a company that runs this huge computer-intensive search operation; its headquarter, the Googleplex, sounds even odder.

The story behind those names begins with an American mathematician, Edward Kasner who was a professor at Bernard College, Columbia University, in New York. In addition to his research work in different areas of mathematics to the general public and to young people through talks, books and articles. His most famous publication was the book ‘Mathematics and the Imagination’, which he wrote with James Newman, first published in 1940 and still in print today. One of the chapters dealt with very large numbers and gives an example of a neat- looking number that is enormously large: 10100; that is 1 followed by 100 zeros. For comparison, there are only about 1080 atoms and 1090 photons of light in the entire visible universe. In 1938 Kasner’s nine year old nephew, Milton Sirotta, invented the name Googol for this number and then coined the term Googolplex for the unimaginably larger number obtained by raising the googol to the power of ten, so:


1 Googolplex = 10Googol


This number is so large that if we started to write it out in full as 10000000000….. it would not fit into the visible universe, which is only about 1029 cm across.

The story told by the computer scientist David Koller is that back in 1996 two young computer science Ph.D. students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were starting to think about how they could map the network of interconnections between different pages containing common words and citations on the Web. Eventually, the strategy they developed to rank pages turned into the most effective internet search engine. At first they called this new search technology ‘Backrub’, but the following year they were trying to find a better name to reflect the huge number of links involved in the searches, and one of their fellow students, Sean Anderson, suddenly suggested Googolplex, which page shortened to Googol. This sounded like a good name so Anderson did a quick computer search to see if Googol.com was still available as a possible internet domain name. In his rush he mistypes the spelling as ‘Google.com’ and found that it was still available. Brin seemed to like the new (mis)spelling better than original and registered Google.com under Brin and Page’s names that very day, 15 September 1997. Later, when Google grew into a massive company, its remarkable headquarters building in Mountain View, Santa Clara, close to San Jose in California, was nicknamed ‘The Googleplex’.


An excerpt from the book ‘ The Book of Universes’ by John D. Barrow.