This hand-painted map from 1981 is believed to be the earliest map of Silicon Valley to highlight the region’s technology companies. It was created by Corbin Hillam, a designer and illustrator of children’s books.
There are lots of hidden treasures in the map. (Golf! Baseball! Wineries! Skiing! Wait—skiing?) What I’m looking at, though, are the company names, which are perfectly of their era, meaning they sound like they were spit out by a room-size UNIVAC computer: Ampex, Memorex, Acuronex, Siliconix, Measurex, Litronix. (An even more famous x-suffixed company, Xerox PARC, is mysteriously missing. It was in founded in 1969 near Stanford University—PARC stands for Palo Alto Research Center—and in 1981 the company’s 8010 Star Information System became the first commercial computer that uses a mouse.) In that environment, the eponyms—Fairchild, Lockheed, Hewlett Packard before it became HP—are the standouts.
Over the next decade, print maps continued to be popular marketing devices for Silicon Valley tech companies—and the names on the maps continued to illustrate naming trends.
This 1982 map retains the cartoonish style of its predecessor, but the names are already revealing a shift. There are the Micros—Scientific Micro Systems, Advanced Micro, Micro Automation—all hoping to catch a little of the magic of Microsoft (then with a single location, in Bellevue, Washington), which had sold a version of its MS-DOS operating system to IBM in 1980. And there are the tecs: Ultratech, Martec, Synertek, Siltec, Versatec, Zentec, Technology Development of California. (Name clone Symantec was founded in 1982, probably too late for inclusion.) The outliers—in multiple senses—are the Japanese companies: Fujitsu, Kyocera (originally Kyoto Ceramic Company), NEC (originally Nippon Electric Company). I get a perverse kick out of spotting misspellings in maps: check out the “Decathelon” Club, which became part of the Bay Club empire in 2013.
A 1986 map is modeled on the famous 1976 New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg, “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” In this case, the world begins at the I-280 freeway and ends at the Sierra Nevada.
A new wind in naming had swept through the Valley. Call it “What the El?” In addition to Intel, founded in 1968 and still in business, we have Rayel, Quantel, Octel, and TeleVideo. You can see why Apple, which makes its first map appearance here, was such a distinctive name for a tech company at the time. By the way, 1986 was the year Steve Jobs bought Pixar, the word nanotechnology was coined (by engineer Eric Drexler), and the first Burning Man was held (on San Francisco’s Baker Beach).
For its 1991 calendar, the data-storage company Seagate—a nice example of a metaphorical name, a newish trend back then—commissioned a calendar that celebrated the Valley’s leading industry.
Naming consultancy Igor International observes in its company blog: “Back when a name like Slack was unimaginable in Silicon Valley, it was rife with off-putting names. The stubbornly held falsehood that B2B names needed to be full of dehumanizing gravitas was rarely defied, even though Oracle had broken the mold 14 years earlier.” InfoWorld, Microscience, TeleVideo, Micro Linear: descriptive compound names were the fashion, and a name like Valid would have been an example of radical iconoclasm, or at least 20 years ahead of its time.
By the Aughts, Silicon Valley abandoned conventional maps in favor of a new type of visualization. By overlaying company names over a map of the Tokyo Metro, a company called Information Architects (“We Architect Information”) depicted functional relationships as well as relative company sizes. This map is from 2007; see more at David Rumsey’s website.
By now, tech-company naming was in the middle of a major style shift. Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace represented the old literal-compound style; Google, Delicious (RIP), Amazon, and Firefox pointed the way to expansive, metaphorical naming.
For the latest versions of Valley maps, we turn to animation. In 10-second opening credits, HBO’s “Silicon Valley” provided wittily compressed views of a fast-changing landscape. In Season 1, which debuted in April 2014, MySpace and Yahoo represent the not-quite-ancien-regime, and Twitter—an example of an onomatopoetic name—is the robust present. Season 2 (2015) introduces Uber (name type: grandiose). In Season 3 (2016), the Google logo morphs into the logo of its new umbrella brand, Alphabet. Season 4 (2017) brings in creepy Soylent and creepier Theranos; look closely at the Season 5 opening (2018) and you’ll see the Facebook logo switch to mock-Cyrillic, a reference to that company’s infiltration by Russian bots during the 2016 presidential election (and beyond). And in the sixth and final season (2019), we get a glimpse of Eaze, the cannabis-delivery service whose name is short, suggestive, and quirkily misspelled: the perfect exemplar of 2010s naming. The constants throughout the series: HP and Intel, stolidly named but solidly built.