Where is Silicon Valley and how did it get its Name?

Many now extend Silicon Valley further north all the way to San Francisco, Oakland and even Berkeley

Every time I see or hear of someone trying to figure out where Silicon Valley is located, it reminds me of the poor Japanese student pilots who struggled with a written exam because they couldn’t find New England on a map of the USA. Such is the power of nicknames and colloquialisms.

Silicon Valley is the original home to the semiconductor chip making industry that uses silicon (fine sand!) as a basic raw material, prompting a newspaper writer one day to call it Silicon Valley. This industry in turn has spawned the revolution in electronics miniaturization, and along with that many other software and equipment companies. This place is credited for the development of different applications used in broadband connections, mobile phones, medical equipment and other electronics. Since the name was coined by the press media, it has no specific boundaries, but does show the power of naming to position a region – just like products and companies get positioned.

Today it is one continuously developed area primarily at the southwest edge of San Francisco Bay. It definitely includes the cities of San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Fremont, Milpitas, Menlo Park, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Campbell and Santa Clara. Does it stretch as far north as Redwood City and Foster City? Probably yes if you, like Oracle, Brocade and Siebel, are located there. Similarly if you are located in Morgan Hill or even Gilroy to the south – but the Monterey peninsula is its own region.

Some might also argue that the East Bay communities of Fremont and Milpitas, as well as the Pleasanton/Livermore valley or the Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley areas are in Silicon Valley. Figuratively speaking they may be, even though geographically they are their own valleys and regions. Before Silicon Valley got its moniker, it used to be a luscious fruit valley, and was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. IBM’s large South San Jose campus was once a thriving walnut farm, and the last fruit canning company has only recently left the area.

Two other naming oddities are located between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Firstly, a former county fair site, with a large indoor amphitheater, which some writer one described as nothing more than ” glorified cow palace”. The name stuck, and today The Cow Palace is a sports and entertainment destination all by itself today.

Secondly, the San Francisco 49’rs football team plays their home games in what is now called Monster Park. Of course, many locals still prefer to call affectionately call it Candlestick Park. (The affection comes from the suffering they have suffered thanks to the wind, rain and mud on that little outcrop). And at every function we attend in Silicon Valley, people are surprised to learn that Monster.com is not paying a dime for the naming rights. They don’t even know that Monster Cable is the real sponsor. Really makes us wonder why Monster Cable and Video didn’t just change their own name to Candlestick Cable and Video.

[Ed. These naming right have now expired and the 49’rs are building their own new stadium in Santa Clara right next to Great America. Naming rights have not yet been assigned.]

As for tourist attractions in Silicon Valley, there are none! Of course, if you are an electronics geek you will like the giant Fry’s Electronics super stores. If you are from outside North America you might enjoy the Stanford Shopping Center, wandering around Stanford University Campus, or even the Valley Fair Shopping Mall. If you are lucky you can get a tour of NASA/Ames research facility at Moffet Field or the joint Toyota/GM Nummi autoplant in Fremont. Try the Tech Museum in downtown San Jose to stimulate your brain or Paramount’s Great America to stimulate your fears. For a touch of strange personality history, everyone enjoys The Winchester Mystery House.

Then the next day, drive over the hill to Santa Cruz or Monterey, or up the freeway to San Francisco or Muir Woods or Napa, and become a real tourist. Further afield, but still within four hour drive, you will find the Yosemite Valley, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Bodega Bay and Lake Tahoe regions. Then you will start to appreciate why Northern California is such a special place.

The Silicon Valley name and allure has been so popular that it has spawned many imitators, including Silicon Beach (San Diego Area), Silicon Forest (Seattle?) and Silicon Alley (New York City).

Here is a table of some of the companies that have their headquarters in Silicon Valley or the greater San Francisco Bay Area. This shows the real power of the area.

Semiconductor Intel
AMD
National Semi
Cypress
Altera
IDT
Xilinx
Hardware Apple
H-P
SUN (Now part of Oracle)
Cisco
nVidia
Logitech
SanDisk
Software Ebay
Facebook
Twitter
Google
Oracle
Yahoo
Adobe
Autodesk
Cadence
Electronic Arts
Intuit
Salesforce.com
Sybase
Symantec
VMware
Financial PayPal
eTrade
Charles Schwab
Wells Fargo
Visa
Biotech Genentech (Now part of Roche Switzerland)
Affymetrix
Bio Rad Labs
Gilead Sciences
Equipment Agilent
Applied Materials
Varian
KLA-Tencor
Lam Research
Other Tesla Motors
Dolby Labs
Zynga
Netflix
Peet’s Coffee and Tea
The Gap
Levi’s
Tivo
Williams-Sonoma

 

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