Google’s name has an interesting mathematical meaning not many know about

The search engine’s name is a nod to a special number, although ‘Google’ wasn’t the first name it was given by its founders – college students Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Google has some important inspiration behind its name
Google has some important inspiration behind its name

It’s officially the world’s most used search engine and is likely a website that you visit multiple times per day without giving it a second thought but have you ever wondered where the inspiration for the word ‘ Google ’ originally came from?

Behind the iconic colourful branding of Google that is recognised the world over lies an inspiration for the name that few know about. After all, when you have a tool as powerful as Google, you need a pretty mighty name to back it up.

Google was kick-started by two college students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Picture the scene, it’s 1995 at Stanford University and Larry was considering attending Stanford as grad school. Sergey, already a student there, was assigned to give Larry a tour of the college.

The pair struck up a partnership from then on and had a vision of creating a website that would rank pages based on the number of other pages that linked back to them, almost like a web.

Working from their college dorm rooms, they created a search engine and named it…Backrub (we weren’t expecting that either).

Soon after however, Backrub was renamed Google. A play on the mathematical expression ‘Googol’ for the number one followed by 100 zeros.

This name reflected the duo’s aim ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. The name was hand-picked to mirror the large amount of data that they were searching through during creation.

So, where did the term ‘Googol’ stem from? Taking it even further back another 70 plus years, before the likes of Google was even a figment of imagination, Edward Kasner, a mathematician, was on the hunt for inspiration.

Whilst on a walk in the New Jersey Palisades in 1920 with his nephews, Milton Sirotta and Edwin Sirotta, Kasner looked to them to think of a word that he could use to coin the large number.

Milton responded with ‘Googol’, a term that Kasner was fond of and therefore adopted as the official name.

Neither Kasner nor indeed Milton would have had any idea what that name would go on to influence and represent over the next 100 years.

Maths-Whizz is a super clever virtual maths tutor which delivers interactive games, lessons and exercises for five to 13 year olds.

To see how good it is at transforming home learning for parents, we’ve negotiated an exclusive 20% off price to make it £15.99 for the first month.

See if you like it first and sign up to a 7-day no-obligation free trial by clicking here. If you want to sign up for a month at a time or even a year, you can do that here but don’t forget to use the promo code ‘MATHS20’.

This article contains affiliate links, we may receive a commission on any sales we generate from it.Learn more

Prior to this, Kasner was a prominent American mathematician who was appointed Tutor of Mathematics in the Columbia University Mathematics Department.

Subsequently, he became an adjunct professor in 1906 and a fully fledged professor in 1910.

Specialising in differential geometry, his legacy extends further than introducing the name ‘Googol’, he is also credited for the Kasner metric and the Kasner polygon.

Alongside James R. Newman, in 1940, Kasner co-wrote a non-technical book that surveyed the field of mathematics, named ‘Mathematics and the Imagination’. It was within these pages that the term ‘Googol’ was first popularised.

Google’s headquarters, The Googleplex

At the same time as suggesting ‘Googol’ on the walk in 1920, Milton also proposed a further term for a larger number, ‘Googolplex’ speculating that the number could start with the number one followed by writing zeros ‘until you get tired’.

Kasner decided to adopt a more formal definition because “Different people get tired at different times and it would never do to have Carnera a better mathematician than Dr. Einstein, simply because he had more endurance and could write for longer”.

It thus became standardised to the number one followed by a Googol zeros.

In the present day, Google’s headquarters are situated in Mountain View, California and are known as The Googleplex, a play on ‘Googolplex’.