How Blizzard got its name

Despite being one of the most well known names in gaming now, Blizzard wasn't always Blizzard. The studio was founded in 1991 as Silicon & Synapse, before switching to the name Chaos Studios two years later. It would never release a game under that name. Six months after that, it nearly became Ogre Studios, before finally landing on Blizzard Entertainment. But how did they find that fated name? As it turns out, from the dang dictionary. 

The story of Battle.Net

Interested in more name origins? We also learned the story of Battle.Net, and why that was a harder name to get than you might think. This is all part of our Blizzard theme week to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Keep an eye out for more to come!

I sat down with Blizzard co-founders Frank Pearce and Mike Morhaime recently to celebrate the studio's 25th anniversary this year. We talked about the history of all their PC games and the origins of Battle.Net, but they also told me the story of how their company got from Silicon & Synapse to Blizzard Entertainment. 

"[Co-founder Allen Adham] decided that he didn't like Silicon & Synapse anymore," Morhaime said. "It was kind of confusing, nobody really knew what it meant, people misspelled it all the time." Adham himself recalled in a 20th anniversary video from 2011 that people would often mistake "silicon" for "silicone," thinking breast implants instead of electronics. The name was meant to be the building blocks of a computer (silicon chips) and the building blocks of a human mind (synapses), but "nobody got it," as Morhaime put it.

Still, it stuck for the studio's first three games, RPM Racing, The Lost Vikings, and Rock n' Roll Racing. The end of 1993 was when Adham decided they should change the name, and Silicon and Synapse became Chaos Studios, which he says "was pretty representative of our development process." No games were actually published with the Chaos Studios name, and it would only last six months before Morhaime got some unfortunate news: the name was taken.

The Chaos Studios logo, alongside a young Mike Morhaime.

"We got a phone call from a company called Chaos Technologies," Morhaime said. "They were based out in Florida, and they basically said, 'Hey, we have the name Chaos, but we're happy to let you continue using it. But it will cost you $100,000.'" Instead of paying to license the Chaos name, they decided to rebrand once again as Ogre Studios. 

But Jan Davidson, President of Davidson & Associates—the company that had acquired Chaos Studios in April 1994—didn't like the name, thinking it "might be a little scary for the kids," as Adham put it. "I thought Ogre was the name, and Jan had to talk us out of that," Pearce told me.

When I asked where the name Blizzard came from after Ogre was shot down, his answer was simple: "Dictionary."

Once we found Blizzard, we said that's it, that's the one

Mike Morhaime, CEO and co-founder

"We only found Blizzard because Jan said she didn't like Ogre, and so Allen started going through the dictionary," Morhaime said. "Allen started going through and writing down cool names, in alphabetical order. I don't know how far he got. At least to B." After multiple name swaps, legal trouble, and disagreements with their new owner, they resorted to pulling names from the dictionary. 

"The thing is, it's so hard to pick a name that hasn't been used before," Morhaime explained. "You pick a name and give it to the legal department, and they start running all these checks, and they give you all these reasons why you can't use it." Another close contender from the dictionary hunt was Midnight Studios, but Blizzard eventually emerged as the clear winner. "Once we found Blizzard, we said that's it, that's the one… And Blizzard came up pretty clean, back then. Now it wouldn't, now it's ours!"

An LA Times article from May 24, 1994 marks when the name officially changed from Chaos Studios to Blizzard Entertainment, with Adham's assurance that "We're still the same lovable company."

Now the name just fits perfectly—perhaps because blizzard is such a generic word, one of PC gaming's most beloved developers has been able to imbue it with its own meaning. Twenty two years later, it's hard to picture Blizzard existing with any other name.

There's a spell or ability named Blizzard in nearly every one of the studio's games, which Morhaime says was intentional from the very beginning. "When we were doing Warcraft, definitely when we put in the Blizzard spell, we were totally thinking of referencing our name. Nowadays we just always have Blizzard."

But as Blizzard art director Samwise Didier puts it, "I think any name change for our company was destined to be better than Silicon & Synapse." 

Tom Marks
Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.