A waitress helped Jack Ma come up with the name Alibaba

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, who holds the record for the biggest initial public offer, actually has an interesting story behind its name. The e-commerce company runs a variety of business under the name Alibaba Group, but the question is why did the Founder and CEO, Jack Ma choose such a name for his company.

Jack Ma’s personal story is as colorful as the story of the origin of Alibaba. The company offers a snippet of the story on its website, explaining the reason behind its name, Alibaba. The reason it offers is that it’s a “well-known” name and easy to remember and pronounce.

Jack Ma
Jack Ma
Image Credits: lifehack.org

Surprisingly such a common name, Alibaba had no trademark attached to it. This comes from the fact that like many other folk tales, “Alibaba and the Forty Thieves” had no known author. The first known print known was published in an edition of “One Thousand and One Nights” by French translator Antoine Galland.

Moreover, Alibaba (the character) isn’t even of Chinese Origin. Galland claimed that he first heard the folk tale in Aleppo, Syria. But the tale is so popular around the world that today it needs no introduction. Everyone is familiar with the spell, “Open sesame”, the magical words to open the chamber of treasures in “Alibaba and the  Forty Thieves”.

Alibaba and Forty Thieves
Alibaba and Forty Thieves
Image Credits: momjunction.com

“E-commerce is global so we needed a name that was globally recognized,” the website states. “Alibaba brings to mind ‘open sesame,’ representing that our platforms open a doorway to fortune for small businesses”, stated former English teacher Jack Ma.

Back in 2006, during the CNN’s Talk Asia show in 2006, the 33rd richest person, Jack Ma explained in detail the story of the name, Jack Ma and how a waitress at a San Fransisco coffee shop helped him choose it. His words are as follows:

“And then a waitress came, and I said do you know about Alibaba? And she said yes, I said what do you know about Alibaba, and she said ‘Open Sesame.’ And I said yes, this is the name! Then I went onto the street and found 30 people and asked them, ‘Do you know Alibaba’? People from India, people from Germany, people from Tokyo and China… They all knew about Alibaba.”

But according to the tale, Alibaba was a thief, and such an association could have harmed the business. But Jack Ma had his own explanation for this as well.

“Alibaba — open sesame. Alibaba — 40 thieves,” Ma said. “Alibaba is not a thief. Alibaba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped the village. So…easy to spell, and global know. Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies.

Interestingly, Jack Ma also thought about the feminine version of Alibaba.

We also registered the name AliMama, in case someone wants to marry us!”, said Jack Ma

Saksham Dewan

Saksham Dewan is a blogger from India, a quizzer, a chess player, and a finance enthusiast. He is a student at Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies majoring in Finance. He loves to write on topics he startled by, be it be anything. To fulfill his quizzing dreams he also runs a Business Quizzing Blog, bizquizwhiz.com not only to pursue his interests but also help others preparing for such quizzes.