How 8 Fonts Got Their Names

Every typeface has a story. Some are classical, some are personal, and some are just plain weird.

Mignon Fogarty

How Fonts Got Their Names

1957 Helvetica

Helvetica was another typeface that went through an identity crisis. It was released in 1957 as Neue Haas Grotesk, but by 1960 it had been licensed by another company and given the name Helvetica, which comes from Helvetia, which is the Latin name for Switzerland. The company thought the new name would play better in a global market.

1983 Geneva

Computers and the advent of desktop publishing, of course, made typefaces more relevant to the average person because we could choose our fonts! 

Susan Kare was an important typeface designer for Apple and in the early 1980s, she designed many fonts for the Macintosh computer. According to an article Kare wrote for Folklore.com, since her group was making so many fonts, they started naming them after train stops in suburban Philadelphia. But then Steve Jobs came by and decided it was fine for the designs to be named after cities, but they needed to be world-class cities. Thus, Geneva, Chicago, New York, and other early Macintosh typefaces were named.

1993 Georgia

As we get into the more modern typefaces, the names start to get even more interesting. Georgia, which was created in 1993 has the strangest origin story of all—the designers said it comes from a tabloid headline that read “Alien heads found in Georgia.” The headline was one of their sample sentences as they were working with the design, and they decided to use Georgia for the name. 

Frankly, that story seemed to be too good to be true, but I found it in a few different credible places, and I came to believe that it’s true.

1994 Tahoma & Verdana

Finally, in 1994, one year after Microsoft released Georgia, the company released Tahoma and Verdana. All three of those typefaces were designed by Matthew Carter. 

Tahoma was named after Mt. Rainier in Seattle, which was called Tahoma by Native Americans.

Verdana’s name is a combination of the word verdant, which describes something green or lush, such as a plant, and the name Ana, who was the daughter of Virginia Howlett, who was one of the first designers at Microsoft. According to an interview,  Howlett “spearheaded a project to hire Matthew Carter to design a TrueType font designed for maximum readability at small sizes on the screen.”—in other words, the Verdana project.

Other Font Stories

The Origin of the 'Keep Calm" Typeface (h/t Simon Zerafa)

[Added June 10, 2015. Obituary for Hermann Zapf.]

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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