How Did Starbucks Get Its Name? The Real Story Might Surprise You

Ever wondered why it's called Starbucks? Turns out it has to do with an old mining map, a specific sound and a classic book.

One cold Starbucks mixed drink sitting on a wooden countertop in front of a cup of hot coffee

Shutterstock / HeinzTeh

Starbucks is one of the world’s largest chains, with 16,700 stores nationwide (trailing right behind McDonalds and Subway!). With a new store opening every single day, we’re seeing more and more of that famous mermaid logo paired with the bold Starbucks name. No one can deny that it’s a pretty good place to pick up your salted caramel mocha or iced caffe latte, but the meaning behind the branding has always been shrouded in mystery.

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So where did co-founders Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegl get the name?

They started with a simple goal: find a company name that starts with “st.” Advertising specialists had suggested that st words were powerful, so the three founders began sifting through whatever material they could find. Someone pulled out an old mining map and found a small town called Starbo. From there, co-founder Gordon Bowker thought immediately of Moby-Dick.

There’s a character in the classic book named Starbuck, Captain Ahab’s first mate and no-nonsense crew member of the Pequod. In the book, he’s known for his quiet nature and moral goodness. Unlike the coffee company named after him, however, he’s not the type to indulge. An online study guide for Moby-Dick even joked, “If Starbucks were Starbuck, you’d only ever get a tall coffee with 2% milk.” According to the company website, Starbucks chose this name because it evokes “the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.”

Fun fact: The founders debated using the name Pequod after the famous ship in Moby-Dick. That is, until they noticed how unappealing a “cup of Pequod” sounded.

How does the mysterious green logo tie in?

The mermaid-type figure gracing the front of our favorite cups is meant to be a seductive sea siren, representing the brand’s nautical theme. She’s not really connected to the literary character Starbuck at all, but now she has been forever associated with the company’s powerful name.

The next time you find yourself stepping into a Starbucks location, you’ll have a better idea of where that interesting name came from. It might be confusing, but hey! It’s the perfect story to tell your friends over a couple chai lattes.

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