etsy-phonetic.jpg

If you’ve bought an artsy-crafty item on the web lately, or if you read Fred Wilson’s blog A VC, then you’ve probably run into Etsy. Since launching in June 2005, this Brooklyn-based company has managed to build an extremely enthusiastic fan base and become the eBay of handmade goods.

Etsy is all about community. There’s a blog (of course) and a forum and a wiki and something called Etsy Labs, an actual physical space in Brooklyn where they give classes about how to make things. Pretty brilliant–building community and training their own suppliers!

And what about the name Etsy? Where does it come from? Ah, that is the mystery. There’s been a thread about that question for more than a year and a half on the Etsy forum. Etsy developer Rokali/Rob has done nothing to clear the mystery up, and has even cranked up his own fog machine. First he hinted that the name is somehow related to Federico Fellini’s film . In a brief television spot on the company, he suggested that the name is from Latin et si ‘and if’. Another Etsy developer, RevolvingDork, cryptically mentioned the sentence “IT’S A SECRET TO EVERYBODY!” on the forum, and pointed to a screen capture from a video game (which has since been removed). Someone picked up on the clue and conjectured that Etsy is based on that sentence: ignore the article a, make an acronym, reverse the letters, and replace the i with a y. Simple.

Contributors to the forum have also come up with their own theories. One is that Etsy is based on the Unix directory /etc, pronounced “et-C”. The Name Inspector came up with his own crazy theory: if you write eBay as Ebay, the orthographic similarity to Etsy is striking, because the t in Etsy looks like a b missing part of its curve, and the s looks like a backwards a missing a line. Simple. Turns out someone on the forum already thought of that.

Does it really matter where Etsy comes from or what it means? What’s really interesting is the strength of the community’s conviction that Etsy must mean something. People crave meaning, and will look for it if it doesn’t walk up and say “hey”. The desire to figure out the “secret” of the name Etsy might matter more than any true story about its origin.

Of course, whatever the founders may have had in mind when they came up with it, the name Etsy has its own special character. It rhymes with the name Betsy, which makes it vaguely personified and friendly. Mostly it’s tiny. It evokes the phrase itsy-bitsy, and has all the right sound symbolism to match. The -y ending is unmistakeably diminutive sounding. The short and high-ish first vowel and the voiceless alveolar consonants in the middle all add to the smallness evoked by the sound. Also, when you say this name, you make tiny little gestures with the tip of your tongue.

So, why would a company want its name to seem small? Well, it’s cute, and a lot of the stuff sold on Etsy is cute (plush toys that are “shy” and need “lots of hugs”, crocheted anthropomorphic ice cream cones, Big Eye kitty patches, etc.). The cuteness also contributes to the friendly vibe on the website and in the forum.

Cuteness aside, the concept of smallness fits the company. It conveys the idea that the merchandise on the site is made in small quantities on a small scale (usually by individuals rather than companies), and Etsy itself is a small company. Also, smallness suggests precision and attention to minute detail, which is perfect for handmade goods.

The name Etsy projects the image of a small grass-roots start-up. If the company continues to live up to this image, it could be really big.

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64 Responses to “Etsy”

  1. on 05 Apr 2007 at 7:48 am Craig

    Great article. Watchout, Etsy is addictive…

  2. on 05 Apr 2007 at 2:34 pm Marissa

    Yes, watch out because it is so addictive! Proud member since Nov 2005. I have to be careful to not spend all my profits on the fabulous stuff I see there.

  3. on 05 Apr 2007 at 3:09 pm Katy

    When I first found the site, I didn’t think anything of the name, but nearly everyone I told about would say “what does Etsy mean?”. Once I became aware of the mystery, I was sure to pass that on. People love a mystery.

  4. on 05 Apr 2007 at 3:24 pm ASLAN

    Funny I remember that thread, and I remember I said this about reversing the sentence “it’s a secret to everyone” and replacing the “i” with a “y” because etsi.com was already taken by another company, a telecommunication company or something….
    cool…
    nice article…

    ASLAN

  5. on 05 Apr 2007 at 6:57 pm mary

    What a great article, I love the way you have picked apart the name in comparison with the site…thanks for a great read!

  6. on 06 Apr 2007 at 3:01 am Ibenia C.

    “…a lot of the stuff sold on Etsy is cute….”

    Yes. yes it is. =) thanks!

    Etsy is getting better everyday. Great article.

  7. on 06 Apr 2007 at 6:31 am Liz

    I think the last sentence sums it up nicely!

  8. on 06 Apr 2007 at 6:54 am Maggie

    I have a shop on Etsy, and if anyone asks, I usually provide the “etc” meaning. However, I didn’t think anything of the name when I signed up :) .

  9. on 06 Apr 2007 at 7:01 am rJax

    Wow. Major interestingness, great article.
    I’m a pure Etsy addict.

  10. on 06 Apr 2007 at 8:26 am adrienne

    My theory is that it doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s completely original, just like the site itself and the people/items found on it. Etsy is Etsy is Etsy, nothing more.

  11. on 06 Apr 2007 at 8:57 am Anda

    Everyone who works here knows its actually named after Rob’s childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth (Betsy) Asquith. When he was a kid, he had to wear so much orthopedic headgear that her name always came out “Ethsy” and thats what everyone called her. Yound love is so adorable.

  12. on 06 Apr 2007 at 9:00 am Anda

    Oops! I mean “young love”
    I don’t know what Yound Love is.

  13. on 06 Apr 2007 at 9:07 am AllisonsPhotography

    This is awesome! yes, Etsy rocks, no matter what the name really means :-)

  14. on 06 Apr 2007 at 12:31 pm AdamsonArt

    Ahh Anda….more mud in the water.

  15. on 07 Apr 2007 at 11:09 am Chuckles

    Good article! I think I like the Fellini theory the best.

  16. on 07 Apr 2007 at 1:47 pm Peg

    Thanks for clearing up the matter of pronunciation. I pronounce it Etsy, rhymes with Betsy, as you so kindly mentioned, but it’s nice to know! BTW, I love ETSY!

  17. on 08 Apr 2007 at 6:38 pm Glass House Jewelry

    Regardless of it’s meaning…it looks like Etsy is becoming more and more of a household name!! Yeah for Etsy!

  18. on 08 Apr 2007 at 10:57 pm DivinePapers.Com

    Oh, what a fabulous article! So nicely written! Signed, A Proud Etsy Addict

  19. on 09 Apr 2007 at 11:17 pm SparklePuss

    Go Etsy!

  20. on 11 Apr 2007 at 9:25 pm janetlyn

    Yes indeed, it is addictive, but this is a healthy one, I THINK! I am new, absolutely in love and so happy that I am fortunate enough to have stumbled upon it. Word of mouth, as they say, works wonders, and though Rome wasn’t built in a day, this thing is going to be huge, already I’ve got two friends that are developing their ideas about their shops to be, and that is a wonderful thing. Props.

  21. on 12 Apr 2007 at 9:04 am beth b.

    Great article.
    HOORAY for etsy! Whatever the meaning….

  22. on 13 Apr 2007 at 8:44 pm abby

    What a fantastic article! I was wondering this just the other day – thanks for, er, giving me more to wonder about.

  23. on 13 Apr 2007 at 9:21 pm beege

    Hmmm, hasn’t anyone ever looked at the ‘about Etsy’ page?

  24. on 02 May 2007 at 3:54 pm CoconutPalmDesigns

    I never really thought what it means but I like the mystery of it. And yes, I think it’s going to become a very big thing. Like Janetlyn, I have a friend who’s thinking about joining too and we both live in Belize, Central America. :-D

  25. on 10 May 2007 at 9:34 am beige

    ahh the mythology of etsy

  26. on 29 May 2007 at 6:43 pm Marissa

    This is awesome. So so fun.

  27. on 20 Jun 2007 at 9:51 am Cher

    I like amianda’s speculation ~
    Etsy = Treasure for Everyone :)

  28. on 11 Jul 2007 at 10:20 am Lynn

    My theory …

    eBay totally sucks is the phrase… sub t and s for b and a, and voila, you have etsy.

    It’s also quite convenient to use my free eBay USPS priority mail boxes, and just mark a t s over the b a on the logo with a black sharpie.

    Good times.

    Lynn

  29. on 01 Oct 2007 at 5:13 pm Kim

    I teach sewing to high school students and we have been looking at the site. I told a student I didn’t know what the name meant- their answer – every thing sewn by you!
    Kids say the darndest things…

  30. on 09 Oct 2007 at 8:55 pm Judy

    pretty good reading!

  31. on 09 Oct 2007 at 9:27 pm AmorDePlata

    Etsy is the greatest!!

  32. on 22 Oct 2007 at 5:56 pm Cathy"s Sew "N" Sew

    I loved the article it was very interesting. And I enjoyed reading all the comments, they are Great. ETSY is Grrreat! I love it and it is addictive, look out!

  33. on 05 Feb 2008 at 6:28 am Nicola

    very cool article, I still have no idea how Etsy got its name or what it means, but there’s obviously lots of theories and it’s a great name!

  34. on 15 Mar 2008 at 1:10 am Debbie

    Yeah! I won. My husband said Eat See. I said Et See (to rhyme with Betsy). Meaning…who really cares?

  35. on 20 Mar 2008 at 6:01 am LilaDiam

    No fellow Greek people around here!?
    The moment I discovered that website, it was rather too clear to me what the name meant!
    The sound ‘etsi’ in greek is an actual word, an adverb, meaning: so, thus, in this way.
    What way? The handmade way, of course!
    I’m no linguist, neither have any connections to the Etsy team, so I might be completely wrong… But I thought you might want to know my version of the story…! :)

  36. on 20 Aug 2008 at 8:54 pm Susy

    Etsy is a Great Community where you can find artists and crafters from all over the world and people who like and support handmade… I love to sell my stuff on Etsy…

  37. on 10 Sep 2008 at 8:21 pm sally

    Hi all :) i think that the name Etsy has a different kind of meaning for everyone but its along the lines of : anything out of the ordinary, cutsy, cup cakey, vintage books, posters figurines, barbie dolls, miniture things, kinky cute, skulls and lipstick, polka dots and teddy bears, but i think that the name really comes from the word Itsy meaning small, cute the ohhhh factor. The E just makes it look more mysterious. Either way i love “etsy” pics so bring it on!!!

  38. on 04 Dec 2008 at 10:52 am verybigjen

    I think Etsy means exactly what you said above… Etc – Et-C. Etcetera.

    Better than Misc I guess.

  39. [...] Vaguely interesting postscript: Nobody seems to know why the site is called “Etsy” or what exactly the name might mean. There’s an interesting article here at The Name Inspector. [...]

  40. on 20 Feb 2009 at 8:11 am J.

    I thought it was a combination of E (as in internet — e-commerce; e-mail) and Artsy.

  41. on 05 Apr 2009 at 4:33 pm Population Statistic

    A THEORY ON ETSY ETYMOLOGY…

    Etsy seems to be picking up steam lately as the Web marketplace of choice for unique handmade giftware.
    It’s a bit too artsy-craftsy for me (except maybe for the custom-crafted t-shirts). But the name “Etsy” itself is unusual enough t…

  42. on 11 Apr 2009 at 7:39 am Karen

    omg! WHO CARES?? It’s a stupid, silly name.

  43. on 11 Aug 2009 at 9:01 pm DRyan327.etsy.com

    I am an etsy addict through and through. I buy, buy, buy and I sell…I think I am only selling so I can buy! {hug kiss for all my etsy friends}

  44. on 06 Sep 2009 at 4:20 am Jeri

    Don’t know what it stands for, but it sure is FUN!!!!!

  45. on 30 Nov 2009 at 1:42 pm Kate

    ETSY used to stand for “Easy To Sew Yourself” on vintage patterns.

  46. on 01 Dec 2009 at 12:14 pm The Name Inspector

    Kate, that’s the most satisfying explanation I’ve seen so far. Do you know of any photos showing a pattern with ETSY on it?

  47. on 06 Dec 2009 at 11:13 pm steve

    what about:
    E (Ecommerce)
    TSY crafTSY, arTSY

  48. on 15 Dec 2009 at 9:09 pm Brian B

    From the December 09 – Reader’s Digest

    “I wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch. I was watching Fellini’s 8½ and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say etsi a lot. It means “oh, yes.” And in Latin, it means “and if.”

    Link to full article: http://bit.ly/89Cg3F

  49. on 18 Dec 2009 at 7:15 pm Toby

    Anybody consider the French “et cie” abbreviation for “et compagnie” (and company)?

  50. on 21 Dec 2009 at 3:42 am Jeri

    Don’t know what it stands for, but it is a wonderful palce and very addicting!!

  51. on 07 Feb 2010 at 6:48 pm Roxanne

    I actually ended up at this site after I googled “Does eBay own Etsy?” I would have been so annoyed if they did!!! As a seller on eBay who’s rather fed up with them, I totally love Etsy!! I kept hearing seeing it on facebook and had to check it out. The whole thing is brilliant!!
    The explanation for the name is awesome in this article! Very interesting and well thought out!! I also like the “e” and artsy/craftsy theory. With the name’s, I don’t know, subliminal (?) reference to “little” and it’s similarity to the words artsy and craftsy, I consider the guys who named it geniuses!! I’m inspired to start making something at home so I can be a part of this great little idea that I’m sure will be big!!
    Good luck and God bless everyone buying and selling on Etsy! I plan to be one of yins soon!

  52. on 26 Mar 2010 at 8:15 am Fvin

    LilaDiam!
    Thank you! I feel less crazy for wondering whether etsy was from the Greek “thus.”

  53. on 28 Jul 2010 at 12:46 pm Angela

    Since I’ve been an Etsy addict for well over a year (and it didn’t take me long to get hooked…once I discovered the site), I can’t believe it took me so long to think “What does ‘Etsy’ mean?”

    I’m even more flabbergasted that Etsy has been around since mid-2005, and it took me so long to discover them!

    After I shared the joys of uncovering hidden treasures on Etsy with a coworker, she shared a New Yorker article with me. It used the term “Etsy-esque”. After reading the article, I just had to look up the term ‘Etsy’ and find out what it meant…or whether or not it had a meaning. (Curious thing: We segued to the topic of “Where does the word ‘ketchup’ originate? After all, it doesn’t begin to resemble the word tomato!”)

  54. on 22 Nov 2010 at 2:50 pm Tamara

    When I first started using Etsy a few years ago, I was told it stood for “Easy to sell yourself”. It sounded good, so that has always been what I tell people when they ask.

  55. on 23 Dec 2010 at 6:37 pm Nick

    Mystery = yretsym or Etsy

  56. on 30 Jan 2011 at 5:16 pm Trish Freyer

    There is many shop names on Etsy that have no meaning.When you open an account to buy something you must create a username.Then if you decide to begin to sell you cant change that name again.Many people got stuck with off the wall shop names including myself.Maybe that’s what happened to them.Ha!Ha!

  57. on 01 Feb 2011 at 7:33 pm DinaD

    If you every watched my Big Fat Wedding, then you’d know everything comes from Greece. Etsy comes from the Greek ‘eh-tsi’ which means “like this/that/so”. So Etsy is where you find things like this, like that, or like so. And there you go.

    Mystery solved. You’re welcome.

  58. on 13 Feb 2011 at 1:14 pm Betsy

    My name is Betsy, and I was just arguing with my brother over the pronunciation of “etsy”. He thought it was “eat-see”. I said, of course, that it rhymes with my name, to which he replied, “you only think that because your name is Betsy!” I’m glad I’m right, and that I have something to back me up!

  59. on 21 Mar 2011 at 2:09 am Elizabeth

    What about a backward form of
    You
    Sell
    To
    Everyone?

  60. on 05 Jun 2011 at 1:07 pm manlan

    from what I read before last year Etsy is supposed to sound like Betsy.I think Etsy blows ebay out of the water for handmade crafts and artistry.

    householdwords.etsy.com

  61. on 02 Jul 2012 at 11:13 am Anggelyka V. Apostle

    Etsy means “this way” in Greek. I figured the founder was Greek.

  62. on 17 Jul 2012 at 6:59 am katie

    LOL–this is hilarious!!! :D Funny what a mystery it’s name has become!!

  63. on 14 Nov 2012 at 9:38 pm LizR

    Hand made = art/artistic/crafty/talented
    Art is open for interpretation. The name “etsy” is open for interpretation. Many here have given GREAT interpretations for the name. And maybe THAT is exactly what the creator wanted. After all, it makes people TALK about it, drawing more attention & generating more traffic to the site. I think it is brilliant!

  64. on 09 Dec 2012 at 5:31 am catherine-word police division

    ETSY LIKE O.B.G.Y.N are the 2 most annoying modern words!
    are americans too lazy to say full names,so they reduce them to a diminutive?!

    i love that there are heaps of Word Police online!

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