This fascinating site gives the origins of all sorts of company names. Who knew that Apache got its name because its founders got started by applying patches to code written for NCSA’s httpd daemon, resulting in “a patchy” server, or that Canon is from Kwannon, the Japanese name of the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy? Once again, aldiboronti comes up with a great post at


  1. That is an interesting site, but, I note that
    Kwannon is not really the Japanese source of Canon.
    The word was once pronounced [kwannon] but [w] was
    lost after [k] and [g] in Japanese quite some time ago. Japanese familiar with the old historicizing spelling will recognize Kwannon, but nobody pronounces it this way: it is now [kannon].
    (The same is true of the lovely movie Kwaidan,
    which is actually pronounced [kaidan].)

  2. Much as I despise Wikipedia, I despise far more those pirate sites that just hoik the entire lot in wholesale, with cavalier disregard for formatting and storage space. Utterly pointless, and even if the GNU licence does allow them to do it, it’s still a rip-off. That article is from Wikipedia where people actually put work into creating it.

  3. NW: Good point (though it would have been helpful of you to give the Wiki URL), and I’ve changed the links accordingly.
    Bill: I don’t quite get your objection. I know, of course, that “Kwannon” is pronounced Kannon in Japanese, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything but the “old historicizing spelling”; as far as I know, Kwannon is the English name for the referent, and therefore an appropriate graphic version of the source of Canon. If you want to get technical, I suppose the Japanese source should be written in Japanese characters, but I try to be friendly to non-Japanese-speakers here, and besides it’s a lot easier to give the English name, and I’m a lazy man.
    (For comparison, surely it’s correct to say that “Paris” is the source of the expression “gay Paree,” even though the -s is not pronounced in French?)

  4. Interesting point. I believe that in more recent scholarly writing about Japan one will find “Kannon”, but it is probably true that “Kwannon” is entrenched in the literature in some areas.
    I grant the point that English could have its own
    name or spelling for a Japanese referent (which is
    why we don’t change “yen” to “en” in line with the current Japanese pronounciation), but to my way of thinking at least there is no Japanese referent. That is, the bodhisattva is the referent, and she has different names in different languages: guan yin in Mandarin, Gun Yam in Cantonese, Kannon in Japanese. There isn’t any entity Kwannon for English to refer to. I suppose that there would be a Japanese referent if one took the view that the concept of Avalokitesvara in each culture is different, so that K(w)annon is not the same
    entity as Guan Yin.

  5. For what it’s worth, Kannon outnumbers Kwannon on Google 17/1. A cursory inspection of the first page suggests there are more businesses etc. named Kannon than Kwannon, but I suspect the majority in both cases derive from the same source.

  6. When I was looking for odd, cute mammalian photos of lemurs, tarsiers, wombats, tapirs, etc. for my website, I found that practically every such mammal has spawned a high-tech company, a computer language, a software, etc.

  7. Kannon outnumbers Kwannon on Google 17/1
    Well, blow me down. I’m obviously behind the times. But Kannon’s triumph doesn’t invalidate my argument that Kwannon is a perfectly good representation of the Japanese word (and I thank Bill for the excellent example of (y)en). And for me, K(w)annon is definitely not the same entity as Guan Yin (whom I got to know quite well in Taiwan).

  8. Apache got its name because [...] resulting in “a patchy” server
    According to the Apache FAQ:
    The name ‘Apache’ was chosen from respect for the Native American Indian tribe of Apache (Indé), well-known for their superior skills in warfare strategy and their inexhaustible endurance. [...]
    Secondarily, and more popularly (though incorrectly) accepted, it’s a considered cute name which stuck. Apache is “A PAtCHy server”. It was based on some existing code and a series of “patch files”.

  9. Hmm. No offense to the Apache FAQ, but I’d want to hear that from somebody who was there at the creation and had no interest in propagating the company line. It sounds very much like the kind of pious story people like to put out after the fact; “a patchy server” sounds like the kind of thing that makes that spark of creative wit say “Hey! Let’s call it Apache!”

  10. If people are going to go into such painful detail, the record should be set straight – You’re *all* wrong. It’s Kwanon, and that comes straight from the Canon website:
    Neglecting all discussions of how to properly write a word in Japanese (and those by people with no obvious claims of being native speakers or having any authority in the field), I’m surprised no one bothered to check in the most obvious place. You can’t really get any more authoritative than the company itself.

  11. I hope you’re joking.

  12. bathrobe says:

    Actually, Kwannon/Kannon is just one pronunciation of the characters concerned. Another is Kan’on (and, I presume, Kwan’on). They have obviously dropped the apostrophe that tells you where to break the two syllables. (Kwan-on, not Kwa-non). Kan’on is admittedly rarer than Kannon, but it exists; there is a place in Shikoku called Kan’onji — not Kannonji.

  13. bathrobe says:

    I said above that Canon had ‘obviously dropped the apostrophe that tells you where to break the two syllables’ (in Kwan’on). I feel that this is the most convincing explanation, given that people are still quite cavalier about the apostrophe 70 years on. Of course, if we are talking about faulty romanisations, the possibility that they decided to drop the second ‘n’ also springs to mind, but this seems less plausible (although one can never fully rule it out!)

  14. I most certainly am not joking. Again, I’m highly surprised that no one bothered to go to the primary source, since the subject of discussion is in fact the origin of the corporate name “Canon”, and they quite clearly state where this came from on their website. That should be the first place to look, well before any books on Japanese people happen to own, or Google, or anything else – Not the last. I’m no language expert, but I am a professional researcher, and while I’m not trying to offend or flame anyone, I find this whole discussion to be a bit misguided. While I understand that people here have studied many languages, and even speak a few other than English, this is a Japanese company we’re talking about here, and I don’t see how we should presume to correct their spelling. If your interest is in learning more about the Japanese language, fine, but arguing about what spelling they meant to or should’ve used or is more popular seems like a waste of energy to me.
    As for the change to “Canon”, I claim no authority, but by my understanding, they changed things to “Canon” and dropped the obvious reference to Buddhism to appeal to the Western market. It sounds quite powerful, somehow, I guess was the thought. They say something along these lines at the link I gave.

  15. this other thread also covered Canon.

  16. Goodness me. Accord to Wikipedia, the kanji is 観音 and romanizations have varied over history. There’s lots of good information in the article.

  17. I spoke too soon. Before WWII the original character was used in Japanese so it was at that point 觀音. But in the company’s own history pages I can only find the katakana カンノン.

  18. I am a professional researcher
    Well, I wouldn’t hire you. I’m not trying to offend or flame anyone, but I find your faith in the truth of corporate websites not so much touching as appalling. Have you gotten this far in life without noticing that companies lie a lot? I’m not saying Canon is lying in this particular instance, but it’s certainly possible they’re misrepresenting the facts of the Japanese word that is the basis of their name, and/or their own history. (Most corporations do a lousy job of keeping track of their own history, since business is all about the present and future, not the past.) You should read and absorb the discussion on this thread, discussion by people who actually know what they’re talking about, rather than announcing that the corporate website says X so that should be the end of the story.
    When you’re doing your professional research, do you also accept as gospel whatever you find in reference works? Dictionaries, encyclopedias, that sort of thing? Because there are mistakes in all of them. It would be easier and more comforting (if perhaps more boring) if there were Infallible Sources we could go to to get Right Answers, but alas, life isn’t like that. You have to interrogate all sources, even (and I know this is a shocking idea) the Canon website.

  19. Jimmy Ho says:

    Question authority, especially if it has any commercial interest (I learned a lot, as a high school student visiting Federal Germany, from a tour in some Bayer AG factory: the chronological chart presented to us jumped from 1939 straight to 1945).
    I hope it is all right if I bring some lighter (though still on topic) matter to the discussion: superficial googling brings up this thread on Hong Kong’s Photo News (Sheying ribao 攝影日報) forum. It all starts with the question “anyone knows the origin of Canon’s name?” (有無朋友知道canon的名字由來?). It’s in Cantonese, so you have to know that 係 stands for 是, 既 for 的, 唔 for 不 etc.).
    About Andrew’s latest comments: this page (“Kwan’on sama no kamera” 観音さまのカメラ) on a site dedicated to explaining company and brand names should be of interest. Unfortunately, I am far from my Japanese books right now (I blame the sudden storm on Paris), so I won’t risk any misreading and only point out their distinction between the “Kyanon” キヤノン (the Western name of the company) and “Kannon” カンノン (the Bodhisattva).
    Still in for fun? It’s Iron Guanyin (Tie Guanyin 鐵觀音 / Tekkannon 鉄観音 テッカンノン) tea time somewhere right now.

  20. Jimmy Ho says:

    I forgot: the company’s site does use the kanji 観音 on their origin page. On that other page is the explanation of why the ‘ya’ ヤ is not half-sized as it should normally be in キャノン (キヤノンの「ヤ」の字は、何故大きいのでしょうか?).

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