Bluetooth was never supposed to be called Bluetooth. Back in 1996, a consortium of companies — Intel, Ericsson, Nokia, and later IBM — decided to create a single wireless standard. Each company had been developing their own short-range radio technologies, but all the names they came up with sucked. Then, along came an obscure Scandanavian king from the Middle Ages.
King Harald Gormsson is famous for ruling Denmark and then Norway between about 940 and about 986, ultimately uniting all of Scandinavia. He was also the one who converted the Danes to Christianity. Like many medieval rulers, he also had a nickname: blátǫnn in Old Norse or Blåtand in Danish. It means Bluetooth. The exact origin of the nickname is up for debate, but many scholars believe that King Harald became known as Bluetooth because he had a conspicuous dead tooth that literally looked blue. Makes sense.
What does all this have to do with wireless technology standards of the mid-90’s? Everything, actually. As the above three companies struggled to develop their new standard, Intel engineer Jim Kardach went out drinking with Ericsson engineer Sven Mattisson. In the summer of 1997, as their companies struggled to finalise their wireless standard, the two men went out drinking in Toronto after losing a competition for a specific radio system. Kardach had been working on a program called Business-RF at Intel, while Mattisson had developed similar technology called MC Links for Ericsson. Nokia had their own Low Power RF program, but apparently, their engineer didn’t get to go to drinks.
During their pub crawl, Kardach and Mattisson started talking about history. Mattisson had just read a book called The Longships by Frans G. Bengtsson that cataloged the travels of Danish warriors under the reign of King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson. (He’s often simply referred to as Harard Bluetooth.) Kardach went home and read The Vikings by Gwyn Jones, which he’d actually ordered before the trip. In it, the history-loving engineer learned more about Bluetooth. “Harald had united Denmark and Christianized the Danes!” Kardach wrote in a column a decade later. “It occurred to me that this would make a good codename for the program.”
Kardach even created a PowerPoint presentation to pitch the idea to others in the formal marketing group. As you can see to the left, it was a little bit goofy. The group debated a number of names, including “Flirt” as a hint that devices get close without touching, but couldn’t agree upon anything. Bluetooth became the official codename, but it was only supposed to be a placeholder. When it came time to finalise the name, all of the companies involved in the project agreed to use IBM’s idea: PAN (personal area networking).
But then, of all things, the name PAN presented an SEO problem. Search engines turned up thousands of results for the word, potentially leading to trademark issues down the line. “It was decided then that we would go ahead and launch the SIG with the codename ‘Bluetooth’,” Kardach explained, “but would then change the name when the marketing group came-up with the official name.” Bluetooth was an instant hit, though, and the name was never changed.
When it finally came time to create a logo, the team turned back to Bluetooth’s Nordic origins. The now iconic Bluetooth logo is actually a combination — officially known as a bind rune — of King Bluetooth’s initials in Scandinavian runes: ᚼ and ᛒ. When you join the two to make a bind rune and drop it on a blue background, you get the familiar Bluetooth logo. The iconic image can be seen on millions of devices around the world. All because of a good king and his bad tooth.
Image via Wikipedia / Bluetooth