How Starbucks Got Its Literary Name
Fans of Moby-Dick may already know this
We’re all familiar with the trope of writing one’s novel in Starbucks, but that isn’t the coffee company's only connection to literature. In fact, the name "Starbucks" is a reference to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. After much deliberation in the 1970s, Starbucks founders Gordon Bowker (a writer), Jerry Baldwin (a literature teacher) and Zev Siegl (a history teacher), settled on the name for their coffeehouse after playing with several Moby-Dick-related ideas. As described in former CEO Howard Schultz’s bookPour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, Bowker pushed for the coffee shop to be named "Pequod," after the book’s ill-fated ship. Bowker’s creative partner Terry Heckler, who eventually designed the ubiquitous Starbucks logo, was hesitant. As Shultz describes Heckler saying: “No one's going to drink a cup of Pee-quod!” Fair enough, but there’s actually a more scientific reason to Heckler’s resistance.
In a 2008 interview with the Seattle Times, Bowker, who ran an advertising agency with Heckler, recounts the team noodling around with a number of other vaguely ship-related names. One of them was Cargo House, which Bowker admits would’ve been a terrible mistake. While it’s unclear if the group considered “Ahab” or “White Whale,” Bowker recalls Heckler stating the phonetic power of words beginning with “St.” Bowker created a list of words beginning with the two letters—Starbucks was not included.
“Somebody somehow came up with an old mining map of the Cascades and Mount Rainier, and there was an old mining town called Starbo,” Bowker said. “As soon as I saw Starbo, I, of course, jumped to Melville's first mate [named Starbuck] in Moby-Dick.”
Starbucks’s website goes so far as to include an explanation the choice: that [the name Starbucks] “evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.” One could also argue that the founders’ devotion to creating a brand and specialty bean that made Starbucks the face of second-wave coffee was a quest similar in intensity to that of the steadfast crew aboard the Pequod. Bowker also described to the Seattle Times a happy coincidence: In a movie adaptation of Moby-Dick, Starbuck loves coffee; as far as he knew, the book has nothing to do with coffee.