Siri, a digital assistant exclusive to the iPhone 4S, is heavily featured in Apple’s advertising as it’s the handset’s key differentiator in the eye of public. For all the rage surrounding Siri, Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs didn’t really like her name to begin with. This comes from the mouth of Dag Kittlaus, the guy who made Siri and became a millionaire following a personal phone call from Steve Jobs.

“Siri” is Norwegian for “beautiful woman who leads you to victory.” A new report highlighted Kittlaus’s speech from last weekend in which he briefly reflected on how he came up with the Siri name and why Steve Jobs wasn’t a fan of his choice.

Yoni Heisler of NetworkWorld quotes Kittlaus on choosing the name of Siri:

I worked with a lady named Siri in Norway and wanted to name my daughter Siri and the domain was available. And also consumer companies need to focus on the fact that the name is easy to spell, is easy to say…

Previous news articles also asserted that Kittlaus named its startup after the famous Norwegian meteorologist and business woman Siri Kalvig, with whom he had worked during his tenure at Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company. At the time, Kalvig worked for meteorologist company Storm.

Kittlaus also recounted that Jobs didn’t like the Siri name so he had to persuade Apple’s chief executive quite consistently that “it’s a great name”. Jobs eventually relented because he couldn’t think of a better name himself so he “decided to stick with ‘Siri'”.

This bit on that life-changing phone call from Apple is also interesting:

Three weeks after we launched I got a call in the office from someone at Apple that said, “Scott Forstall wants to talk to you and he’s the head software guy.”

And I said sure…

Only it wasn’t Scott that called it was Steve. And Steve never announces where he’s gonna be and what he’s gonna do because there’s too much commotion around it. So he said, “Dag, this is Steve Jobs.”

And he wanted me to come over to his house the next day, and I did, and I spent 3 hours with him in front of his fireplace having this surreal conversation about the future.

And, you know, he talked about why Apple was going to win, and we talked about how Siri was doing. And he was very excited about the fact that.. you know, he was very interested in this area in general but, you know, they’re patient, they don’t jump on anything until they feel they can go after something new and he felt that we cracked it. So that was his attraction.

I ended up very lucky, timing wise. I got to work with him for a year before he got real sick. And he’s pretty incredible. The stories are true. All of the stories.

Eagle-eyed readers could point out that Steve Jobs initially disliked the iMac and iPod names as well. iDownloadBlog also reported last week that Jobs said ‘no’ to the new Apple TV interface five years ago.

In my Dag Kittlaus report over at 9to5Mac, I noted that the sale to Apple for an estimated $200 million turned him and and other co-founders into millionaires. It was sourced from Norwegian publication E24! which also quoted Kittlaus, a former Motorola executive, as saying that by 2013 Apple will produce a full-blown television set featuring Siri voice interface (hope it doesn’t look like this).

According to a recent survey, nearly 90 percent of iPhone 4S owners use Siri and roughly a third would love to see it featured on the Apple TV.

It’s worth mentioning that the machine-translated version of the Norwegian article had later been confirmed to me as accurate.

Remarkably, Kittlaus emailed me to express his disatisfaction over the article. He claimed to have never mentioned the Siri TV thing to the reporter. I removed that bit, though the original article still has it intact. Editors of the magazine and authors of the report wouldn’t return my phone calls seeking clarification.

After Apple snapped up their startup, Kittlaus and his team moved to Apple’s headquarters. Kittlaus left Apple eighteen months later and is now writing a futuristic techno-drama and developing new projects.

I would love to hear from you about the Siri name…

Did you like the sound of it when you first heard it mentioned in an Apple product?

  • Anonymous

    I would’ve named Siri ‘Helen Keller’ because it seems like most of the time she doesn’t hear me.

  • Ben Graham

    i like the name siri but not siri itself

  • Well, Siri in portuguese means “crab”, and I have heard a lot of jokes here in Brazil bacause of that…

  • *because

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  • Did Steve Jobs like anything? He was too much of a perfectionist.

    • “too much of a perfectionist” got him a leading role in seven separate industries. I’d call that a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    From English to Norwegian on the word for Siri is Norwegian you said in this article: “Pen dame som leder deg til seier” 🙂

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  • siri is siri i dont think any other name.

  • maybe the name bothered SJ since “siri” the word sounds too close to “syrian” which is what nationality his father is.

  • Funny all this new origin story for Siri. I had read in a couple places around the time of the iPhone 4S launch that Siri had at least part if her origins in the nation’s top A.I. Research program at Stanford University (with lots of military involvement) thus the name:

    S tanford
    (drop the A ratificial)
    I ntelligence
    R esearch
    I nitiative

    I didn’t question the accuracy (although I may be remembering the final “I” word incorrectly) because it just made sense and more than plausible, unlike much of this new romanticized origins tales – perfect for the media. Hopefully I can find the articles which discussed this or perhaps another reader might be able to confirm or debunk this version of how Siri got her name.

  • sorry about the typos. it’s late and I failed to proof read prior to hitting ‘post.’

  • I like it. Doesn’t Siri mean beautiful and intelligent in some other origin of language?