Pulling a story about the company's name out of Red Hat

Open source company says: Think revolutionaries and an old lacrosse cap.

Ever wonder why Linux company Red Hat is called that?

In an interview with Red Hat Magazine, co-founder BobYoung said that the red hat has long been a symbol of freedom, with revolutionaries in both America and France donning red caps during their uprisings.

“There is a tradition in western history of red being the symbol of liberation and challenge of authority,” he says in the taped interview.

As for the name Red Hat specifically, fellow co-founder Marc Ewing also had an affinity for red hats and wore his grandfather’s red lacrosse hat during his time at Carnegie Mellon.

“When Marc was at university he used to name his software projects red hat – red hat one, red hat two – just to differentiate them from his friends. So, of course, when he started his Linux project he just named it Red Hat Linux for lack of a better term,” said Young, who left Red Hat in 2005 to focus his energies on another company he founded, online independent publishing marketplace Lulu.com.

In addition, Ewing became the go-to guy on campus for fellow students with PC problems, Young told the magazine.

“Friends would say, ‘You should talk with my friend Marc. Who’s Marc? He’s the guy in the red hat’,” Young says. “So, at least among his immediate friends, red hats became synonymous with technical expertise.”

While Red Hat’s red hat originally started out as a clip art top hat, today the red fedora has a great deal of meaning for the company, says Chris Grams, director of brand communications and design at Red Hat.

“The fedora has become a symbolic gift that Red Hat gives to employees and others who have done great honor to or service for the company,” Grams says. “We all wear our fedoras with pride.”

Thanks to Red Hat’s strong brand recognition, it hasn’t had problems with customers confusing it with other “Red” companies, such as telecom equipment maker Redback. From time to time, however, it does get mixed up with the Red Hats, a society of older women who go out in groups wearing red hats.

“As a side effect of being called Red Hat, we do occasionally get the opportunity to talk to nice older women about why they should consider using Linux and open source technology,” Grams says.

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