The True Story of How Starbucks Was Almost Named “Pequod”

Ever wondered what 'stars' or 'bucks' have to do with coffee? Starbucks' name has a surprising origin that you'd never guess from its logo.

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Starbucks branding is truly iconic. Even without seeing a logo, you can probably spot its drinks just by the color of the straw. But as often as you’ve passed (and let’s be honest, stopped at) the coffee chain, you probably haven’t given its name a second thought. Just make sure you’re not committing any of these barista pet peeves.

Just looking at a Starbucks cup doesn’t give much of a hint about what its name means. The woman in its logo is a mythological siren, so what does that have to do with stars? Or bucks? And why is it one word?

Originally, the chain was going to be called “Cargo House, which would have been a terrible, terrible mistake,” co-founder Gordon Bowker tells the Seattle Times. The owners had also considered using “Pequod” after Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick.

But Terry Heckler, the brand consultant who designed the chain’s logo, wasn’t so crazy that name either. Heckler mentioned offhand that like these power words, things starting with “st” sounded powerful—a good trait for a brand that would grow to more than 25,000 locations by 2016. From there, Bowker made a list of “st” words. But Starbucks wasn’t on it.

As the team tried landing on a name, Heckler brought out an old 1800s map of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades. The name of one mining town, Starbos, stood out to Bowker. He immediately thought of the first mate on the Pequod: Starbuck.

They added the S because it sounded more conversational. After all, anyone talking about the coffee shop would probably say they were “going to Starbucks,” so might as well make it official.

The company says its name “evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders,” but Bowker brushes that off. He says Moby Dick has nothing to do with their coffee, and “it was only coincidental that the sound seemed to make sense.” But hey, we didn’t need a nautical adventure anyway. We’re perfectly content with a simple latte.

 

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