“Alexa” was not the only name choice for what would become Amazon’s voice assistant, which would respond to a “wake word” when summoned.
Amazon Alexa, simply known as “Alexa,” first entered American and global households in 2014 and soon became synonymous with Apple’s Siri. But not many people know that “Alexa” was in fact not the first name the folks at Amazon thought of when coming up with the persona of their digital assistant. So how did Alexa get its name?
In a book titled “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire,” writer Brad Stone revealed that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was passionate about developing a voice-controlled assistant that would have to be initiated by a “wake word.” According to Insider, the “wake word” required three syllables and a “distinct combination of phonemes” so that the device would not unnecessarily active itself but also had to be a marketable name.
How Did Alexa Get Its Name?
During development of their voice assistant, the Amazon team brainstormed on a name that would be the “wake word” to activate the device. The team wrote down ideas for names on flash cards that were spread across a conference room, where Bezos would go through them and pick out his favorites.
Bezos also had his own suggestions, including “Finch,” the title of a fantasy book by writer Jeff VenderMeer and “Friday,” the name of the personal assistant in “Robinson Crusoe” and a word that one would imagine can cause confusion when asking the digital assistant to book appointments on a Friday.
Bezos also suggested “Samantha,” named after the main character “Bewitched” or “Amazon,” to get people to feel feelings of goodwill towards the tech giant. The Amazon CEO was reportedly unhappy over how his mother’s name, Jacklyn, was not “mellifluous” enough and was “too harsh” to be considered as the “wake word” and name of the digital assistant.
Eventually, Amazon chose another of Bezos’ suggestions, “Alexa,” which he came up with to honor the library of Alexandria, Egypt, a historical center for knowledge and learning in the ancient times. In 2019, an Amazon blog post described the introduction of Alexa as “a pivotal moment for artificial intelligence,” bringing voice-activated technology outside of the lab and into people’s homes.
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Alexa’s Impact on Culture and Society
Alexa was a groundbreaker in the sense that the ‘affordable, always-ready, far-field technology” of voice computing at the time was close to non-existent. Fast-forward to 2019, Alexa grew from knowing how to do just 13 things to acquiring more than 100,000 skills from developers.
Alexa has permeated culture as well, as just one year from its inception, “Alexa” became the 32nd most popular female baby name in the U.S., the Seattle Times reported. But for those actual humans who are named Alexa and do not want their names to be used as the “wake word,” they can actually customize the device and use other words such as “Echo,” “Amazon,” or simply, “computer.”
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