The white coffee cup emblazoned with a green siren has become perhaps the single most recognizable emblem of American coffee-drinking culture. Starbucks is in a league of its own in the coffee shop arena, boasting over 15,000 locations nationwide and more than double that globally.
Lore has it that the mega-franchise’s name draws direct inspiration from the eponymous first mate, Starbuck, of Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick.” And while there’s some truth to the tale, the inspiration behind the name is multi-pronged — and may have less to do with the character than the sound of his name.
Starbucks co-founder Gordon Bowker told The Seattle Times in 2008 that after nixing the name that almost was — Cargo House — Terry Heckler, Bowker’s partner at an advertising agency, suggested that they consider names with the prefix “st.” During that same fateful brainstorming session, another team member produced a mining map of the Cascades and Mount Rainier, pointing to an old mining town named “Starbo.”
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Starbo elicited Melville’s “Starbuck” in Bowker’s mind, and the rest is history.
“But ‘Moby-Dick’ didn’t have anything to do with Starbucks directly; it was only coincidental that the sound seemed to make sense,” Bowker told The Seattle Times.
Nautical allusions are plentiful in Starbucks’ branding: The logo was born out of an image of a two-tailed siren that the founders discovered in an old marine book, according to Starbucks’ website.