In the Museum - Stories
Frequently Asked Questions? Who sets out to find questions that have
already been asked? I'd rather look for Frequently Forgotten
Why the name "Delphi?"
by Danny Thorpe
"Delphi" started out as a beta codename
for a closely guarded skunkworks project at Borland: a next-generation
visual development environment for Windows based on Borland's Object Pascal
programming language. The codename hatched in mid 1993, after the
development team had been through about 6 months of deep research,
proof-of-concept exercises, and market analysis. Members of the then
Pascal development team were hanging around R&D Manager Gary Whizin's office
brainstorming clever codenames to use for the new product. It was not a
large office, but it was not a large team either - about 10 people between
R&D, QA, Pubs, and Marketing. It would have been odd not to see Anders
Heilsberg, Chuck Jazdzewski, Allen Bauer, Zack Urlocker, Richard Nelson, myself,
and several other regulars jawing away on some topic or another in Gary's
office. For the codename jam sessions, there may have been some overflow
into the hallway.
Borland has a long history of "unusual" codenames, some with catchy slogans or backgrounds that tie the odd name to the market or product focus. A codename should have no obvious connection to the product, so that if an eavesdropper overhears the name in conversation it won't be too obvious what product is being discussed. The difference between an everyday disposable codename a great codename is the pithy passphrase behind it. The most memorable for me was the codename for Quattro Pro 4.0: "Budda". Why? It was to assume the Lotus position!
So we were sitting in Gary's office, kicking
around weird and wacky codename possibilities. The strategic decision
to make database tools and connectivity a central part of the new Pascal product had been made only a few days before, so Gary was keen on having a codename that played up the new database focus of the proposed product, and of its development team. The database shift was no small matter - I remember having grave reservations about "polluting" the Pascal tools with database arcana that took me almost a year to shake off. It was a big gamble for Borland, but it was very carefully measured, planned, and implemented. In
hindsight, making Delphi a database product was exactly what was needed to break Borland's Pascal tools out of the Visual Basic - C++ market squeeze play and set Delphi head and shoulders above traditional Windows development
Gary kept coming back to the codename
"Oracle", referring to SQL connectivity to Oracle servers.
"Oracle" didn't fly with the group, though. Aside from the obvious
confusion with the same-name company and server product, the name itself implied
server stuff, whereas the product we were building was (at that time) a client
building tool, a way to talk to Oracle and other servers.
How do you talk to an oracle? "The
Oracle at Delphi" was the word association that popped into my head.
So I offered up "Delphi": If you want to talk to [the]
Oracle, go to Delphi.
The suggestion wasn't an instant hit. It's
an old name, an old place, a pagan temple in the ruins of a dead
civilization. Not exactly an inspiring association for a new
product! As some press articles later noted, the Delphic Oracle was
particularly infamous for giving out cryptic or double-edged answers - not a
great association for a data management tool. Asking a question of the
oracle was free to all, but having the oracle's answer interpreted and explained
(compiled?) cost a pretty drachma. (The marketing guys liked that
Overall, though, the "Delphi" codename
had a classier ring to it than the sea of spent puns that littered the
room. Pascal is a classic programming language, so it just felt fitting
somehow to associate a Pascal-based development tool with a classical Greek
image. And as Greek mythologies go, the temple at Delphi is one of the
least incestuous, murderous, or tragic ancient Greek icons you'll find.
We went through a lot of codenames during the
development of that 1.0 product, coining a different codename for each press or
corporate briefing of the beta product. This was an effort to limit rumors
and allow us to track the source of leaks. The last thing we wanted was
for you-know-who to get wind of what we
were up to. Through all these disposable codenames, the Delphi codename
stuck. Towards the end of the development cycle, marketing started using
the Delphi codename across all prepress and corporate briefings, and as the
codename for the final beta releases. That got the rumor mills talking to
each other, and the tools industry was abuzz with talk about this secret project
at Borland codenamed "Delphi". J.D. Hildebrand wrote a whole
editorial in Windows Tech Journal about the "Delphi buzz" months
before the product was launched. (paraphrased: "I can't tell
you what it is, but I can tell you this: Delphi is going to change our
When it came time to pick a retail product name,
the nominations were less than inspiring.. The "functional"
name, a name that describes what the product actually does and is therefore
much easier to market and sell, would have been AppBuilder. This name
actually still appears in some IDE internal class names, such as the class
name of the IDE main window. (R&D caved in to the functional name
pressures and set about implementing it early) But AppBuilder didn't light
up people's imagination. It didn't work well internationally - functional
names are only functional in their language of origin.
Thankfully, a few months before Delphi was
scheduled for release Novell shipped their own product called
Visual AppBuilder. There was much rejoicing in the Borland halls, for at last the "AppBuilder" debate was laid to rest. With the functional
name taken out of the running, suggestions started coming from all quarters to
use the Delphi codename as the product name.
Delphi wasn't home-free yet. The lead
marketing person had legitimate concerns about the extra effort that would be
required to build name recognition in the marketplace for an "iconic"
(opposite of functional) product name, so he requested a vote of the development
team. There was only one vote against (guess who?). Much to our
chagrin, someone came to the conclusion that the development team's views were
not an accurate representation of the marketplace ("sample error" was
the phrase I heard), and pressed for a survey of the beta testers.
When that poll didn't produce the
result he wanted, the survey was broadened again to include
Borland's international subsidiaries, press, market analysts,
stock analysts, corporate accounts, software retailers, and probably a few
K-Mart shoppers. It became a bit of a comedy: the harder people
tried to dismiss "Delphi" for the product name, the more it gained
"Delphi" has a classical ring to
it. It has a consistent meaning/word association worldwide in all
languages. It has no embarassing vulgar slang meanings in other languages
(that I'm aware of). Most of all, the marketing guys had done a marvelous
job of building up market anticipation and buzz around the "Delphi"
name. The market was primed and ravenous for this thing called
And that, boys and girls, is how the Delphi product
got its name.
Danny Thorpe Senior Engineer,
Delphi R&D Inprise Corp
Copyright (c) 1999 by Danny Thorpe