Inspired by a question on English Language Learners:

“You know what I like about people?” he asks, staring into the camera. “They stack so well.” He’s been reading newspaper coverage of the carnage he’s created.

-- www.hollywoodreporter.com

The question on ELL was about what "stack" meant in that context, and the result related to the insanity implied by a murderer's association of people with corpses neatly stacked in a mass grave.

Now I want to know about another use of "stack". Stack Overflow was one of the original three SE Q&A sites, named after the stack data structure used to store a computer program's continuation. (A "stack overflow" happens when functions call other functions so deeply that return addresses and automatic variables exceed the amount of memory reserved for them.) The Exchange part comes from "knowledge exchange" but suggests a connection to ExpertS-exChange, a competing "knowledge exchange" site notorious for its paywall and other dark patterns in how it complies with Google's first click free policy.

But why was Stack Overflow, and not Super User or Server Fault, chosen to contribute the other half of the name of Stack Exchange? The trademark use guidelines cited in the other branding post didn't answer my question.

  • I'd rather say the "exchange" comes more from the direct connection to "stock exchange", given the existing prevalence of "stack" (as explained in Oded's answer). – Christian Rau Nov 8 '14 at 19:42
  • @ChristianRau - the exchange bit came from the concept of "Knowledge Exchange". As mentioned in this podcast. – Oded Nov 8 '14 at 20:26
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    @cVplZ That question is about where SO's name comes from and mine is about why SO was chosen for SE's name. – Damian Yerrick Nov 9 '14 at 0:41
  • SuperExchange would sound pretentious and ServerExchange would have implied used hardware for sale. – user1228 Nov 10 '14 at 16:31
  • @Won't Fault Exchange likewise has problems. That leaves User Exchange. Or was it taken at the time? – Damian Yerrick Nov 10 '14 at 17:15
  • Same issue with ServerExchange. Would imply slave trade. – user1228 Nov 10 '14 at 19:24

It starts with the technical programming term for a stack - this is the name of a data structure (a stack), where one conceptually stacks up items.

This term was used in the name of the first site - Stack Overflow, which references one type of error that can occur in the usage of stacks - adding more items than either the data structure or the computer can hold (this is a slightly simplified explanation, but is enough for the purpose of explaining the name).

With Stack Overflow becoming a hugely popular site, when the concept of creating many many other sites using the same software engine came up and a name was sought, keeping the word stack both for being recognizable by Stack Overflow users and in that it has the other meaning (one could think of it as a stacking of sites in different topic - the logo alludes to that usage). Stack Overflow was (and still is) the largest site in the network, by a long margin.

Though, a third usage of the term stack comes to mind in computer/IT - a technical stack (meaning the choice of technologies used for a system), but I doubt that one contributed to the name.

  • Any idea who came up with the name? My guess is Joel, maybe ping him to come over and give some details, if he would like to? :) – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Nov 8 '14 at 20:03
  • I'm not sure who first suggested the name, but it was the highest voted suggestion on Jeff Atwood's blog. blog.codinghorror.com/help-name-our-website – Connor Nov 8 '14 at 20:06
  • @ShadowWizard - which name Stack Overflow or Stack Exchange? – Oded Nov 8 '14 at 20:30
  • Stack Exchange. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Nov 8 '14 at 20:30
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    @Sha - Stack from "Stack Overflow", Exchange from "Knowledge Exchange". No idea who came up with the portmanteau. (the comment/link from connor confused me) – Oded Nov 8 '14 at 20:31

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