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What’s in a name?

May 13th, 2008 by Jason Kilar CEO

When we initially announced our company’s name, I wrote a short blog post about the choice of Hulu as our moniker. Now that the service has been launched in the U.S., I thought I’d share more background and context on why we chose the name Hulu. After all, we’re very proud of the name, and perhaps some of our new users are curious about its origins.

In a series of marathon naming sessions, Eric, Christina, Eugene and I (shown below) generated, reviewed and debated a very long list of names, filling the whiteboard walls with dozens of possibilities last July and August. In doing so, we came up with a short list of interesting names and a much longer list of horrendous names. It turns out it’s much easier to think up bad names as opposed to good ones!

Hulu brainstorming session

At some point during the marathon naming sessions, the name Hulu was suggested in addition to slight variants. Eric — who doubles as Hulu’s CTO — mentioned he had actually considered the name Hulu for an online video venture that he previously founded in China. In Mandarin, Hulu has two interesting meanings, each highly relevant to our mission. The primary meaning interested us because it is used in an ancient Chinese proverb that describes the Hulu as the holder of precious things. It literally translates to “gourd,” and in ancient times, the Hulu was hollowed out and used to hold precious things. The secondary meaning is “interactive recording.” We saw both definitions as appropriate bookends and highly relevant to the mission of Hulu.

As I mentioned several months ago, we were also excited about the name because it had no meaning in the English language. Given that we had aspired — and continue to aspire — to create a unique experience that is both worthy of remark and defies easy comparison, having a name with no direct definition appealed to us. For practical purposes, we also set out to have a relatively short, easy-to-pronounce name. And though we had done our homework — we were familiar with all the translations, both good and bad — we still wanted a name that was both approachable and fun. After all, we’re not selling life insurance or medical instruments here.

And so the name Hulu came to be.

Jason

jason.kilar@hulu.com

Last comment: about 21 hours ago 19 Comments
  • youtube.com says:

    What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how concerning unpredicted feelings.

  • Rui says:

    Did Eric tell you that the most common meaning of Hulu is SNORING, which means your program make people snoring..?

  • [...] your business, according to Anita Campbell, CEO and Executive Editor of Small Business Trends. Researching Hulu reveals that the name does have meaning, but will your customers take time to do that? On the plus [...]

  • [...] and by the way, Etsy is the nonsense word. Hulu is a real Mandarin word meaning either “gourd” or “interactive recording.” And Xobni is [...]

  • [...] RICHARD TOM: I had already signed on to join Hulu, and was wrapping up my last week at Microsoft when I got a call from my friend, former Hulu CTO Eric Feng. He told me that he had great news: We were close to selecting the company name. “Hulu,” he said. I remember thinking, “Hmm, I’m going to be working for a company named ‘Hulu’? Um, not so sure how I feel about that.” Once I heard the meaning behind it, I figured, “Well, it’s definitely much better than “Clown Co.” [Read more about our name here and here.] [...]

  • Don Eden says:

    You are going to hear a lot of happy-crap about how the word “Hulu” is some nifty traditional Mandarin word for “a gourd that holds something precious.” Forget all that bullshit, the name “Hulu” was chosen by a marketing team because it is quick, simple, is “fun to say,” and it happens to “tend to remind a person of “Youtube” or “Google.”

  • Menexis says:

    I have to say that Hulu has the best video content on the web right now. The quality and content is sooo much betta.

  • mitch says:

    My discovery of hulu.com was from watching the super bowel game last Sunday. Hulu.com commercial stood out because it sounds like Chinese, which got me curious enough to find out about its origination…
    May I add “hulu” in Chinese language, signifies more than “a treasure holder” – it’s a MAGIC treasure holder. Magic is in your name, love it!

  • Josh says:

    Access from other countries seems to be a big issue from what I read on comments from other sites talking about hulu. I live in the US so I have no issues accessing hulu. But it seems a lot of foreigners are interested in accessing your content.

  • Hulu that’s great i like it!!! it’s the best conception, it’s easy and remarkable!!!

  • Very interesting blog, i have added it to my fovourites, greetings

  • Chris says:

    The name is inspired. It fits in every regard. Caring enough about it to expend that much effort must mean that you will do the same with the site itself and its content. It’s terrific already.

    I just watched the last of the Remington Steele episodes and wonder why only 2 seasons are available. It can’t be a licensing issue, since you’ve already got the first 2. Will the rest of the seasons be posted? I’d also like to see Magnum PI, Cover-up, Get Smart, The Highwayman, and such prime time soaps as Emerald Point N.A.S. and Flamingo Road, and Twin Peaks. Thanks for a great service!

  • Paul says:

    Great concept and implementation but like the above commenter I am dissapointed by the coverage and timeliness. Battlestar Galactica is on an 8 day delay schedule, so if I watch it at Hulu I’ll be more than a week (2 episodes!) behind the rest of the world and meanwhile you will be sending previews and clips spoiling episodes I have not yet seen.

  • Scott says:

    I’d really like Hulu to work with Armed Forces Network to allow some type of registration for military personnel and their families overseas.

    The Armed Forces Network does get free content from the major networks, but most of the shows are shown months after being aired in the US.

    There are a number of quality shows on television these days and by serving overseas we’re missing out on this content.

    For advertisers, we get paid in US dollars and buy things online or through the commissary or Exchange system all the time. We would endure commercials for the opportunity to see great content.

  • Gantyauvomcy says:

    From someone with a very hard to pronounce name, let me tell you NOBODY cares what the product is called after the first week of disgruntled vendors and curmugedeon bloggers vent as long as you have The Simpsons, which you do. :)

  • Amanda says:

    Yes, I was really curious about the meaning of ‘Hulu’ and now it’s good to see that your choice has more than one. :)

  • I couldn’t find Hulu’s contact information so I decide to leave a comment on your blog, in hopes that you folks will read this.

    I am greatly disappointed to see the lack of closed-captioning (CC) on many videos. I am Deaf so I reply on the captions to follow with the plot and the characters’ lines. So far, I was only able to view “Back to You” the tv series because it is probably the only one that offers CC… and unfortunately the latest espiode doesn’t include the CC. Thus Hulu.com has become useless for me to come… this disappoints me because I thought Hulu.com was the great thing since sliced bread. I do not have cable like that New Yorker (not even channel 1 through 13) here in Washington DC so I get my fix from Hulu.com so I can just understand my peers and coworkers when they chit-chat away about this tv show, this hot star, and yada-yada-yada.
    I want you, the owners and employees of Hulu.com, to be aware and sensitive to the fact that a feature of closed-captioning is very vital to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities all over America (even international) and that you shouldn’t find it as useless and easily to discharge or oversee when uploading video clips….
    Keep captioning your videos– not just “Back to you” but every other tv shows because they are already captioned on everybody’s television sets.

  • Kelly says:

    I like the concept, but am frustrated with the lack of upkeep on shows offered. One episode in the middle of the season and then nothing? It seems to be a frequent occurrence. Perhaps Hulu means “forgotten b/c owners got bored with concept”???

  • Dianne says:

    I love your concept! And very excited about viewing your shows and reading your blogs! Tha nks so much!
    Also…can we request some shows…
    I really liked “Spenser for Hire” with Robert Urich… and can’t find it anywhere…can you get it? It ran back in the 80′s
    Thanks again!
    Dianne

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