In 2021 you might be hard-pressed to find anyone that doesn’t know the Bluetooth symbol. Today, it is one of the most recognisable logos on earth and the technology has a range of applications in everyday life.
From pairing devices together and controlling your television to tracking your proximity to other people, Bluetooth is an integral part of our digital world.
And while most will undoubtedly recognise the symbol, some may not know its slightly obscure origins. To get there, we must travel to the mid-1990s and then further back to the early Middle Ages, to an era of Viking raids and conquests, of cultural and religious upheaval.
The inspiration for the term ‘Bluetooth’ and the symbol which represents it came in the 1990s during a period of rapid innovation in wireless technology.
A host of big tech companies, including Ericsson and Intel, were exploring the capabilities and possibilities of short-range radio link technology. Each company was pursuing its own vision of this technology, however, and adhered to its own standards.
Intel, for example, referred to its wireless tech as ‘Business-RF’ while Ericsson named theirs ‘MC-Link’ and Nokia was working on a similar programme known as ‘Low Power RF’.
In an effort to establish clear-cut industry standards and offer the convenience of cross-functionality, a number of organisations supported the creation of a ‘Special Interest Group’ (SIG).
During a SIG meeting in Lund, Sweden, the organisations agreed to pool resources and collaborate closely moving forward.
The Origins of Bluetooth
At this stage you’re probably wondering what on earth the history of the Middle Ages has to do with the development of Bluetooth technology.
The term ‘Bluetooth’ finds its origins in Denmark in the 10th century AD. During this period, the Norse kingdom was ruled by King Harald Gormsson, who is more commonly referred to as ‘Harald Bluetooth’.
Traditionally, there has been much debate over why he was given this moniker. Most scholars point toward the obvious though, a rotten tooth that was blue in colour.
What is known, however, is that Harald ruled Denmark some time between 958AD and 986AD and is a unique figure in Scandinavian history. During his reign, Harald is credited with completing the country’s unification under a single crown, conquered Norway and converted his Danish countrymen to Christianity.
By all accounts, Harald Bluetooth was a transformative and unifying figure in 10th century Scandinavian history.
Back to the Future
Coming back to the modern era, researchers at Intel during the mid-1990s proposed that the new Special Interest Group be titled under the codename Bluetooth while marketing experts could conjure up a more suitable name for the wireless technology.
Jim Kardach, a researcher at Intel during this period, was asked why the name was chosen at the time. In an op-ed from 2008, Kardach explained the thought process behind the use of the name, as well as the logo that would come to be chosen.
“When asked about the name Bluetooth, I explained that Bluetooth was borrowed from the 10th century, second King of Denmark, King Harald Bluetooth; who was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link,” he wrote.
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Kardach explained that he first heard the name Bluetooth during a business trip to Canada, where a colleague from Ericsson recommended a book on Scandinavian history called Longships by Frans G. Bengtsson.
Upon returning from the trip, Kardach also read another history book titled The Vikings by Gwyn Jones. In both these titles, Harald Bluetooth was referenced.
“Harald had united Denmark and Christianized the Danes! It occurred to me that this would make a good codename for the program,” he said.
“At this time I also created a PowerPoint foil with a version of the Runic stone where Harald held a cellphone in one hand and a notebook in the other and with a translation of the runes.”
That Iconic Logo
As Kardach mentioned, the translation of Old Norse runes is required to dig down into the origins of the logo itself. The Bluetooth logo is actually the initials of Harald Bluetooth in Old Norse runic symbols.
That iconic hard-edged symbol you’ve probably not cast a thought toward is made from the combination of two runes from the runic alphabet known as the ‘’Younger Futhark’
Separated, we find two distinct symbols, one representing the runes of ‘Hagal’ (ᚼ) and the other of ‘Bjarkan’ (ᛒ) – basically, the initials ‘H’ and ‘B’. (see below)
The merging of these two runic letters has a double meaning. Firstly, it represents the initials of the monarch from whom the term ‘Bluetooth’ is derived, but the merging also signifies the connection between two devices – the essence of Bluetooth technology.
Passing the Test of Time
Today we know the Bluetooth term has stuck. However, Kardach explained it could’ve been consigned to a marketing scrapheap had luck not intervened.
Companies operating within the SIG were proposing their own names for the wireless technology, with two of the top contenders ‘RadioWire’ and PAN (short for Personal Area Networking).
Initially, it was decided that PAN would be the chosen name for the technology ahead of launch. A trademark search scuttled the proposed name, however.
“The other member companies had performed a trademark search on the word PAN and surmised that this would be a poor candidate for a trademark: an internet search produced tens of thousands of hits.
“It turned out that no trademark search was done on the backup name (Radio Wire) and the only name we could go to launch with on short notice was Bluetooth!” Kardach said.