How Apple’s Web Browser Ended up Being Called ‘Safari’

Although Safari is now one of the prominent icons of the Mac OS X dock, you would have expected Apple to have called its Web browser iNavigate, or iBrowser . . . or something like that. On Safari’s tenth birthday (this month) Don Melton, the guy who started the Safari and Webkit projects at Apple, decided to tell his story: how did Safari end up being “Safari”.

Reading his blog post is like sitting in the Time Machine and going back ten years to assist in the birth of Apple’s prominent Web browser. As he points out, the whole project started ten years ago in December, when he and his team got the assignment to develop a Web browser – which they did in 30 days – so the product debuted on January 7, 2003.

After the executive team decided to pull this product, the hardest phase came: what could they call this thing? As Melton recalls, Steve Jobs voiced multiple suggestions out loud, with “Freedom” being one of the most memorable, especially given the associations that come with it.

I don’t recall all the names, but one that stands out is “Freedom.” Steve spent some time trying that one out on all of us. He may have liked it because it invoked positive imagery of people being set free. And, just as possible and positive, it spoke to our own freedom from Microsoft and Internet Explorer, the company and browser we depended on at the time.

Of course, all I could think about was, “Please don’t let us name the browser after a feminine hygiene product!” But cooler heads and filthier minds prevailed. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in the room with that concern.

However, this wasn’t meant to be its name, so they ended up calling the project “Alexander”, although everyone felt this wasn’t the right name for “the thing”. From the first decision to the final steps, six months had passed, and with the actual work starting in December, there was still nothing except “Alexander”. So, the team became a bit tense about the name. Even Melton admits that.

One day, Kurt Knight, the Marketing product manager touched on the sensitive subject again. This time he was very excited and he was looking for Melton:

“What’s up?”

“They’ve picked a name!”
What… is it?” I asked with my teeth nearly clenched.

“Safari,” Kurt whispered.

“What do you think?” he asked.

I honestly didn’t know what to think. My mind was a blank because I just didn’t expect it. The name seemed to come out of nowhere. It sounded more foreign at that moment than its actual origin.

“It doesn’t suck,” I finally offered.

The name Safari came out of the blue. Melton still doesn’t know, even today, who suggested the name, but by the time he had reached his office he liked the name and he convinced his team as well. Fortunately, they didn’t need too much convincing.