Starbucks is Named After a Moby Dick Character

June 4, 2011 at 2:00 am 12 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

In 1971, an English teacher, a history teacher and writer started a coffee roasting business in Seattle.

It’s not surprising that such an intellectual group would have an affinity for classics like Moby Dick. In fact, Starbucks was nearly called Pequod, the name of the whaling ship in Moby Dick. Thankfully, one of the partners rejected the name. Instead, they went with Starbucks, the name of Pequod’s first mate.

Although Starbuck was a fictional young quaker from Nantucket, there were a number of real sailors from that era named “Starbuck.” Naming a coffee company was not the first time the Starbuck name was borrowed either. There is an island in the South Pacific, a popular region for whaling, called Starbuck Island.

Starbuck Island was heavily mined for phosphate in the late 1800s and many ships were wrecked there. The high frequency of shipwrecks was probably caused by the reefs that surrounded the island, but there is a mythical explanation too.

In Greek Mythology there are seductresses who lure sailors to shipwreck on the coast of their islands. These mythical creatures are called Sirens and the Starbucks logo contains one.

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Images: Wikimedia (Starbucks)

Sources: Wikipedia (Starbucks, Moby Dick, Starbuck Island, Siren)

Entry filed under: Demystified, Food and Drink, History and Origins. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jen  |  June 6, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I’ve never read Moby Dick, so I actually made this connection thanks to an episode of The X-Files (Starbuck was Scully’s dad’s pet name for her). I didn’t know about the island, though. Interesting!

    Also interesting: the evolution of the Starbucks logo.

  • 2. Anita Burnham  |  June 10, 2011 at 12:12 am

    I actually re-read Moby Dick while I was in college studying to be an English teacher and there was a footnote when Melville introduced Starbuck for the first time:

    Not to be confused with the coffee chain

    Thought it was the funniest thing I’d seen even though I knew the story behind the coffee chain’s name!

  • 3. Ron Hyatt  |  June 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Gotta love that full release latte.

  • 4. R  |  June 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Did the character in the novel betray his home city (Seattle) and sell it’s soul (Supersonics) to the devil?

  • 5. JT  |  June 19, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I always thought it was named after a Battlestar Galactica character lol

  • 7. Theolinda knight  |  June 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Charlotte Vinge, science fiction author, (Winter Queen, Summer Queen) named the character who was both an intergalactic emissary and a royal consort Starbuck. It was a title rather than a personal name, the man had to be “from the stars”, and each successive queen chose her own Starbuck.

  • 8. Sarusa  |  December 17, 2013 at 12:41 am

    Captain Ahab would have been a better name for the coffee chain.

  • 9. C E Morris  |  March 31, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Thanks! I knew about the Moby Dick link, but have wondered about the long-haired Siren in the Starbucks logo — most appropriate, given the delightfully addictive call of caffeine!

  • 10. Matt Noble  |  November 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

    I knew that starbuck was the first mate in the story Moby Dick, I actually asked an employee at my local store and he had no idea. He even questioned whether it was a true statement I was making, I just said “look it up, see if I’m right.” Maybe he will but more importantly maybe he will read Moby Dick!!!

  • 11. Introduction | The Starbucklopedia  |  June 12, 2017 at 6:39 am

    […] on a daily basis. Why should I care how Starbucks got their name (it’s a character from Moby Dick), when all I’m really wondering is if Kelly the barista will ever lower her standards far […]

  • 12. 5 Examples of Famous Logo Designs That Tell a Story  |  June 22, 2017 at 5:24 am

    […] wonder what the green logo is all about on your Starbucks coffee cup? It’s a fictional character from the famous literary classic, “Moby Dick” by […]


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