What's in a name? These DevOps tools come with strange backstories

From Ansible to Vagrant, we take a look at 23 coding and DevOps tools with curious origin stories and strange-sounding names. Want to know the etymology of your favorite software? Browse this.
By David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
1 of 23 Photo by Yun Xu on Unsplash


See it now: Ansible

Ansible is an open-source software provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment tool from Red Hat. Ursula K. Le Guin coined the word "ansible" in her 1966 novel Rocannon's World. The word was a contraction of "answerable," as the device would allow its users to receive answers to their messages in a reasonable amount of time, even over interstellar distances. Ansible has found its way into many other science fiction stories by other authors as a tool for hyperspace.

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Disclosure: ZDNet may earn commissions from some of the products featured in this gallery.

2 of 23 Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash


See it now: Capistrano

Capistrano is an open-source tool designed to remotely automate scripts for deploying web applications. Capistrano is the town in central Italy where Saint John of Capistrano was born. San Juan Capistrano in California is the home of a migratory phenomenon where, every spring, swallows migrate 6,000 miles from Argentina. In a chat log, the developers liked the name because Capistrano is "casually sophisticated, pleasant, and refreshing."

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3 of 23 Photo by kinsey on Unsplash


See it now: Docker

Docker is an open-source container-level operating system virtualization system. Since Docker is all about containers, it seems fitting that the company's logo looks like a stylized container ship -- and the ship/dock connection makes the name Docker all the more fitting.

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4 of 23 Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash


See it now: Ganglia

Ganglia are the connecting structures between the peripheral and central nervous systems in the human body. In the DevOps world, Ganglia is an open-source distributed monitoring system, essentially creating a peripheral nervous system for systems, clusters, networks, and widely distributed environments.

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5 of 23 Photo by Paul Hart on Unsplash


See it now: Gradle

Gradle is an open-source build tool intended to improve on Apache Maven in terms of flexibility, performance, user experience, and dependency management. According to a forum post, Gradle, which sounds like an inverse portmanteau of cradle to grave, actually has no meaning. It just sounded cool. The logo refers to the effort and tenacity to perform a build, the effort an elephant can expend.

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6 of 23 Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash


See it now: Icinga

Icinga is an open-source network monitoring system created as a fork of Nagios, intended to overcome perceived limits of Nagios. Icinga is a Zulu word meaning to look for or search for. It also sounds like icing, which makes us think of cake. Almost everything makes us think of cake.

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7 of 23 Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash


See it now: Java

Java is a general purpose programming language that's pretty much become the foundation for our modern mobile-centric world. It's also now owned by Oracle, which has caused enormous amusement and employment for attorneys everywhere. As for its name, it was originally Oak, then Green, then -- from a whiteboard brainstorming session fueled by coffee -- Java.

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8 of 23 Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


See it now: Jenkins

Jenkins is a Java-based automation server. It was originally called Hudson, but was changed due to a dispute between the developers and Oracle, owner of the Hudson trademark. The Jenkins logo is an image of a butler, often referred to as Mr. Jenkins. World of Warcraft players can't help but think of the Leeroy Jenkins meme whenever they hear the word Jenkins.

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9 of 23 Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash


See it now: Jira

Jira is a proprietary issue tracking product developed by Atlassian that allows bug tracking and agile project management. The product name is a truncation of Gojira, the Japanese word for Godzilla. That makes Jira, though a few degrees of separation, a reference to Bugzilla, a competing product.

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10 of 23 Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash


See it now: Juju

Juju is an African spiritual practice involving objects and amulets. Juju is also an open-source application and deployment modeling tool. The core objects of Juju are called Charms, earning Juju (the software) our Cultural Appropriation Much? Award for this gallery.

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11 of 23 Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash


See it now: Kubernetes

Kubernetes is an open-source orchestration system originally developed by Google, intended to automate application deployment and scaling. Kubernetes originates from Greek, meaning to be a captain, a pilot, or a navigator. 

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12 of 23 Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash


See it now: Nagios

Nagios is an open-source system, network, and infrastructure monitoring service. Nagios is also a recursive acronym standing for "Nagios Ain't Gonna Insist on Sainthood." See, back before it was called Nagios, it was called NetSaint until it ran afoul of the trademark gods. As it turns out, Agios is also Greek for "saint." Can you just stand all that cleverness?

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13 of 23 Photo by Isabella Jusková on Unsplash


See it now: Perl

It's a little difficult to classify Perl as a DevOps language, but since it was so heavily used in the early days of web applications, it deserves a place in our list. It's also a cool name. Developer Larry Wall originally named it Pearl, but it turned out there was another language by that name. So Perl (without the "a") was born.

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14 of 23 Photo by Vivek Karthikeyan on Unsplash


See it now: Prometheus

Prometheus is an open-source monitoring project that records real-time metrics as a service. Prometheus was also the mythical Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity, leading to the birth of civilization. So, naming your software Prometheus is not pretentious in any way. Not at all. Plus, a lot of science fiction starships have been named Prometheus.

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15 of 23 Photo by Pablo Hermoso on Unsplash


See it now: Puppet

Puppet is a so-called open-core, open-source product, meaning some of it is open source and some of it is all about commercialization. The software is designed to manage system configuration through a declarative language. Essentially, the software is intended to make systems perform like they're puppets on the end of a string.

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16 of 23 Photo by David Clode on Unsplash


See it now: Python

Python is a high level programming language used in many network and web applications. The name Python was named after Monty Python's Flying Circus, earning Python our Most Delightful Etymology Award for this gallery.

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17 of 23 CBS News


See it now: Ruby

Ruby is a general purpose programming language that's the foundation of the very popular Ruby on Rails framework. The jewel-styled name Ruby was inspired by Perl (which was briefly going to be called Pearl). 

Image source.

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18 of 23 Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

Ruby on Rails

See it now: Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails provides a rich web application framework for fast development and deployment. The "on Rails" portion of the Ruby On Rails name is because frameworks are designed to provide a clear, smooth, somewhat automatic path, like steel rails provide to trains.

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19 of 23 Photo by Joe Hernandez on Unsplash


See it now: Scala

Scala is a JVM-compatible language that is both object-oriented and support functional coding, with the intent of producing more concise, easier-to-support code. Scala is a blend of scale and language, implying code designed to grow. Scala is also a nightclub in London, an English electronic rock band from the 90s, and was a Charlotte Street theatre constructed in 1772.

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20 of 23 Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash


See it now: Snort

Snort is open source intrusion detection software managed by Cisco. Snort, at its most basic, is a packet sniffer, so it doesn't take a pig flying to see the jump from sniff to snort, which explains why Snort's mascot is a pig.

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21 of 23 Photo by Janita Top on Unsplash


See it now: Splunk

Splunk is a machine data analytics firm that provides intelligence, security, and analytics solutions for infrastructure and IT operations. The name Splunk is derived from spelunk, the practice of cave exploration for the pure fun and adventure of it.

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22 of 23 Photo by Boudewijn Huysmans on Unsplash


See it now: Squid

Squid is a high-performance proxy caching server for web clients, going all the way back to the earliest day of the web. Squid was the codename for the project and the name stuck.

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23 of 23 sonyae/iStockPhoto


See it now: Vagrant

Vagrant is an open-source tool for building and maintaining software development environments hosted on virtual machines. While the word "vagrant" implies someone down on their luck, a key part of the definition is someone without a fixed abode. Since Vagrant is designed to virtualize software development environments so they're portable, the name is rather appropriate.

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