Which Joe is “cup o’ Joe” named after? Also, what does Starbucks have to do with a giant whale?

Every coffee lover has a term of endearment for his or her cup of brew. Here are the stories behind some of the more frequently used expressions, like cup of Joe and java.

(Also, if you’re curious about  the mystery of where the word coffee comes from, look here.)

According to the folk etymology of cup of Joe, the term may be named after Josephus Daniels. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Daniels to be Secretary of the U.S. Navy.

The story goes that Daniels instituted several reforms, including banning alcohol from U.S. Navy ships. With the booze gone, coffee became the strongest drink available to sailors. And then over time, it became known as a cup of Joe.

Java is another slang word for coffee. It is named after the main Indonesian island, which is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Coffee is grown abundantly on Java.

When craving a cup of muddy water, many of us head to Starbucks, which got its start in Seattle in 1971. The three founders of the largest coffeehouse company in the world were an English teacher, a history teacher, and a writer. This may explain the company’s name. Starbuck is a character in “Moby-Dick.” He is a Quaker from Nantucket who is a first mate aboard the Pequod.


  1. Jud Fiore -  August 26, 2016 - 3:31 pm

    Starbucks helped nationalize their brand by selling it first through the Schwan food company.

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  3. Sigi -  May 13, 2011 - 12:15 pm

    There’s an island called “Starbuck? Named after Valentine or Obed Starbuck, whaling family of Nantucket. The island is between Phoenix and Maquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Kiribati .
    Perhaps the three founders checked their history and thus named it after that family.

  4. Jean Manuforti -  January 24, 2011 - 8:53 am

    Having read all the way to the end of these very good coffee-soaked posts I’m gasping… for a cup of tea! Sorry, javaheads.

  5. Carl -  January 23, 2011 - 10:37 am

    I thought a “cup of Joe” was from a freak accident where a Navy seaman was accidentally ground into the coffee while at port for resupply.

  6. Keith -  January 18, 2011 - 8:23 am

    I was in the navy for a few years, and coffee is pretty much a staple of every sailor. Im guessing with the attitudes of sailors “a cup of joe” would make more sense coming from this source. Often ridiculing our upper chain of commands as a joke, it only makes sense of referring to the new “beverage of choice” as a cup of joe.

  7. Jancann -  January 8, 2011 - 8:26 pm

    I haven’t been this interested in comments in maybe………ever!
    One of the nicest sites I have ever visited, the information & the people.

  8. Francesca -  January 8, 2011 - 5:24 pm

    Oh, just kidding. The town in Washington is also called “Starbuck”, probably after Starbuck of Moby Dick as well. Disregard my former comment.

  9. Francesca -  January 8, 2011 - 5:20 pm

    There is a town in Washington called Starbucks. Maybe they named the company after Starbuck from Moby Dick, but seeing as they are from Washington and some people have been criticizing that the company is called “Starbucks” and not “Starbuck’s”, I think that this town might also be a possibility.

  10. LADY GAGA -  January 8, 2011 - 7:41 am


  11. Janae -  January 8, 2011 - 5:51 am

    Wait, Tom….a starbuck is an apparatus for holding wood while you’re sawing it. It’s composed of two supports nailed together in the shape of an “X”, (hence the star) with another piece connecting the two. The wood to be sawn is placed in the top sections of the “X” so that the saw can cut through cleanly. Wait a minute! That’s a sawbuck, not a starbuck. Maybe I’d better get a cup of coffee before I discuss this subject.

  12. claudia -  January 8, 2011 - 3:43 am


  13. Kathy -  January 8, 2011 - 2:39 am

    The first time I saw that chicken place, I was in NYC and couldn’t figure out the “Pope Yes”. Was it a religious restaurant? I may have had a couple of beers.

  14. tinker -  January 7, 2011 - 1:56 pm

    Apostrophes do matter. It’s the difference between the chicken restaurant’s being called Popeye’s and being called Pope Yes.

  15. William -  January 7, 2011 - 1:09 pm

    Best cup of coffee I’ve ever had was in a German pub or Gasthaas in Frankfurt AM one Sunday morning back in 1968. Usually I went there for the beer and sausages in the evening by the way. No American served coffee, regardless of its fame has ever topped that German coffee.

  16. Kate -  October 28, 2010 - 9:42 am

    I love coffee! I think I’m gonna name one of my kids Starbuck, I like it. And was that really Lady GaGa?!?!?!?!?!?!?! :o

  17. Jocantha Telsey -  October 9, 2010 - 3:59 pm

    this is ridiculous, hot word is very vague and doesn’t explain their subjects well. no proof, no sources, ugh. however, it does provide some basic knowledge.
    @westmount, montreal: lady gaga probably did NOT comment on this article, it could just be a kid joking around.

  18. person -  October 4, 2010 - 4:07 pm

    I thought the people who founded Starbucks were from Starbucks, Washington. Or maybe the map I looked at was lying that there is a city named that. There is also Marcus.

  19. Fashmash -  October 4, 2010 - 2:51 pm

    The name Starbucks (and the mermaid logo) came from a P.R. company. The logo comes from a 16th English tile that the P.R. company found. That’s the story one of the founders tells

  20. A.Alaalas -  September 15, 2010 - 10:22 pm

    Like Starbucks, you will find much varied signage for Grocer, e.g., Grocers, Grocer’s, Grocers’ when in fact there is only one grocer on the premises.

  21. westmount, montreal -  September 11, 2010 - 7:09 am


  22. tristram -  September 11, 2010 - 3:07 am

    To me, the bigger question/mystery is the odd relation of what looks like a trifecta in the making. Starbucks, Macy’s and Folger’s Coffee.

    Nantucket, early 1600s. Purchased by a group of men from a “broker” representing the standing ownership by local indians. Tristram Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swayne, Thomas Bernard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleafe, John Swayne, and William Pike for, “thirty pounds…and two Beaver hats one for myself and one for my wife.

    Edward Starbuck, while not a “founder” of the island, was an original inhabitant and originated from Devon England just as the group of others.

    Naturally, you’ve heard that Nantucket was the world epicenter of whaling back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Spearheaded (no pun intended) by a few prominent families of particular expertise; Coffin, Starbuck, Macy, Gardner etc. These families’ reputation is represented across the globe with south pacific islands named such inventive names like Coffin Island, Starbuck island and.. well, you get the idea.

    The potential trifecta’s conspiracy theory-worthy mascot is none other than the Starbuck logo. Especially the most recent and current version.

    Goes something like this: Thomas Macy was the ancestor of R.H. Macy who founded the famous department store, and was born on Nantucket Island. While working as a deck hand aboard a whaler, he got a red star tattooed on his hand. I’ll get back to this later.

    James Folger, also of Nantucket Island, made his way to San Francisco during the goldrush via the Panama Canal. As he’d done in Nantucket numerous times, he found work rebuilding after many of the fires destroyed buildings. One of which was a spice company owned by William H Bovee. After rebuilding, and working for Bovee producing roasted and ground coffee, the two founded the San Francisco coffee firm, known today as Folgers Coffee. Now we’re getting somewhere.

    Whaling. Back to whaling. As customary, whalers and whaleships featured figurehead affixed to the prow of the ship to ward off bad seas and ensure hospitable forebearance. Some fo these figureheads were carved to resemble bountiful mermaids.

    The Joseph Starbuck, built by Joseph Starbuck in 1838 and like many Nantucket whaeships, featured a rather sexy mermaid figurehead attached to the ship’s prow. I guess the whales became overwhelmed with lust, and rendered unable to navigate properly.

    So, this version of the Starbucks logo, which was used for years, shows a Star and a busty mermaid. We have a tie-in with the Starbuck name from Nantucket, Joh Starbuck’s whaler The Joh Starbuck, the mermaid figurehead, the Macy’s red star and, of course, the coffee connection with Folger having been a deckhand on a whaler.

    So, the current version of the Starbuck’s logo features the mermaid, with a star on her crown. Nantucket, Starbucks, and Macy’s – whaling, department stores, coffee and mermaids. And Edward Folger (coffee) whose son James lived in Nantucket and relocated to San Francisco to ultimately founded the iconic coffee company, Folger’s Coffee. How is it that two fo the most prominent name sin the coffee industry are closely tied to nantucket, which oddly has not coffee tie-in whatsoever?


    Yet, there is one other factor here, another Coffin family member.

    That’s me!

    -Tristram Coffin


  23. ummmmmmmm ya know -  September 10, 2010 - 9:18 am

    Hey me we should get back to our school work before Mr. smarr gets mad and we get caught!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. riki -  September 9, 2010 - 4:58 pm

    grammatical accuracy ‘is’ the purpose of your post not ‘it’ ….. :)Love my coffee French

  25. KMFW -  September 9, 2010 - 2:31 pm

    “Call me Fishmeal.”

  26. Toni -  September 9, 2010 - 8:33 am

    It should be “Since everyone…” Another acceptable way to prefix your myriad of petty grammatical corrections would be “Seeing that…” However, the former remedy for your atrocious choice of words would be my first choice.

  27. Dhr. S.R.A. Shah -  September 9, 2010 - 7:39 am

    What a great fuss on the origin of coffee, Starbuks or Starbuk’s, Joe or Java. It does not matter, whether you drink at McDonald’s or at
    Starbuk’s. It still taste like coffee. According to the quote of Shakespear: “What’s in a name, if you call a rose by another name, it
    will still smell like a rose”. The same philosophy should apply for
    coffee, because whatever name you give coffee, it will taste like coffee
    and it will smell like coffee. Eind of the discussion. However, you should keep up the good work, for more discussion on such matters!!!

  28. Dhr. S.R.A. Shah -  September 9, 2010 - 7:31 am

    What a fuss over Starbuks (Starbuk’s), Joe and Java. What’s in a name,
    if you call a rose by another name, it will still smell like a rose!
    The same philosophy applies for coffe, because it always smell like a
    coffe, whether you drink at McDonald’s or Starbuck’s.
    Keep up the good work for more discussion on such matters!!!

  29. Laura -  September 8, 2010 - 5:04 pm

    Very entertaining entries! Actually, I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s coffee to Starbucks. To me they taste better and are much more reasonably priced. I just call “coffee” by that apellation – the history of the nicknames are very interesting. Thanks for the good read!

  30. GollyGee Gran -  September 8, 2010 - 10:31 am

    My dad was career Navy – he called it ‘Joe’ since before WW II – and I do believe it was because of G.I. Joe. But Joe, Java or whatever it’s called – gotta love a good “cuppa”!!!

  31. jtuck2 -  September 8, 2010 - 9:39 am

    I think it’s (notice I used the apostrophe) poetic license to leave out the apostrophe. I’ve noticed many companies do that. Not a problem………

  32. CUP O JOE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 8, 2010 - 9:12 am

    [...] COFFEE, CheaPucini — a cupasoup or Burger Kings Joe — it’s all caffeine and marketing the JAVA JAVA that we know.–>>rUPERT l.t.rHYME [...]

  33. Some sport dude -  September 8, 2010 - 7:59 am


  34. nutsack -  September 8, 2010 - 7:54 am

    i think the whole ideaof starbucks is dumb. all your doing is wasting money on whale fecece.

  35. GaGa -  September 8, 2010 - 7:35 am

    This is so interesting:) I totally had a Starbucks cappuccino before my concert 2nite a JPJ;)

  36. Rosa la'Perdona -  September 8, 2010 - 7:23 am

    WoW! really cool blog! specially since I love Starbucks!!!!!!!! Starbucks #1 fan…fosho!

  37. ummmmm ya know -  September 8, 2010 - 7:05 am

    haha that’s so funny me!!!!!! And whats even more funny is i’m sittin right next to you!!!!!!!!! So hey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. Cuban_eight -  September 8, 2010 - 7:03 am

    According to the founders on the CNBC Starbucks interview, Starbucks was made up because it sounded good and not directly after the character.

  39. ME -  September 8, 2010 - 7:02 am

    haha i didnt even read it. who really cares coffee is coffee it all goes down the same. =)

  40. Cheryl -  September 8, 2010 - 6:15 am

    I love the term “jump juice”! Really cool & original.

  41. Linda -  September 8, 2010 - 5:57 am

    Love reading all the comments. Love coffee. Don’t care what it’s called or anything. I like WWW! Keep it up, Lin.

  42. To J.D. from K.I. -  September 8, 2010 - 5:57 am

    Is Starbacks anywhere over the Pacific Ocean? Come cross the border!!

  43. Leo Gordon -  September 8, 2010 - 5:32 am

    Are none of the three founders or their children alive to ask that question?

  44. Joe D -  September 8, 2010 - 5:30 am

    On The X-Files, Scully’s father called her Starbuck because he read Moby Dick to her when she was a child.

  45. pyoongdoong -  September 8, 2010 - 3:26 am

    And nobodies should be nobody’s.

  46. pyoongdoong -  September 8, 2010 - 2:16 am

    Sorry, there should be a space in between the ‘post’ and the bracket. I thought I should post the earlier post, to remind people that this is a blog, and not a grammar test. And coffee is good. Although I just call mine coffee.

  47. pyoongdoong -  September 8, 2010 - 2:13 am

    Seeing as everyone is being just slightly pedantic, I’ll join in. Jimmy, if grammatical accuracy it the purpose of your post(which I assume it’s not, as nearly nobodies is, except for the fussy, ‘pedantics’), then your post should be “I look forward ‘to’ more”.

  48. Carlyle Menz -  September 7, 2010 - 11:36 pm

    The founders of Starbucks originally wanted to name the coffee shop “Ahab’s Coffee” but decided it sounded too biblical and unapproachable. So “Starbucks” was chosen instead. That’s what my English prof. told me anyways.

  49. Gary Dean -  September 7, 2010 - 9:17 pm

    Cup of Jo is simply that. The Javans historically called their country Jow. “You want some Jow” Dialects get mixed up and so suddenly no-one knows where words or their originate. It’s a bit like the Tower of Babel, biblical story.

    But Jo or Jow is simply where coffee originates. All the best.

  50. Jimmy F. Ramos -  September 7, 2010 - 5:21 pm

    Interesting–not only the story about “cup o’ Joe”, but the entire ferreting on words for their origins and tales. I look forward for more.

  51. Rajan -  September 7, 2010 - 1:53 pm

    Interesting. I always thought it was short for jolt, as in the caffeine giving me a kickstart or jolt to keep awake and work.

  52. John -  September 7, 2010 - 12:45 pm

    No, Starbuck is the name Scully’s father calls her.

  53. Rob Feldbruegge -  September 7, 2010 - 12:42 pm

    Maybe the three founders all felt a connection with Starbuck, perhaps all decided to be first mates and equals, since they’re partners, rather than one being Captain Ahab, one Starbuck, and one Ishmael. Thus the plural, Starbucks. Of course, it would still make more sense to have an apostrophe at the end, “Starbucks’” – but maybe that just doesn’t look good, and their business sense drove them to drop the apostrophe.

  54. Faith -  September 7, 2010 - 12:19 pm


  55. Tom Evans -  September 7, 2010 - 12:17 pm

    THE RAINMAKER, central character of N. Richard Nash’s American western play from the 50′s has chosen for himself the romantic name “Starbuck.” He says something to the effect that his made up name has in it the power of the sky (star) and the quality of manliness (buck). Which is one reason I have always liked Starbucks coffee.

  56. Howard Beggs -  September 7, 2010 - 12:01 pm

    Hey ty,
    It’s “gentle tone”, not “gently tone.”

  57. #1 Skillet fan -  September 7, 2010 - 11:54 am

    I hate coffee but this was a good blog. Keep it up :)

  58. Waldo Pepper -  September 7, 2010 - 11:50 am

    Well you have to understand that when Starbuck was aboard the Pequod, they hadn’t yet invented the apostrophe. So that explains that. Still don’t know why Starbucks discontinued their “half double decaffeinated half cap with a twist of lemon” approriately called the Ishmael.

  59. clark -  September 7, 2010 - 11:25 am

    I thought Starbucks came from Terry Bradshaw’s first wife’s maiden name! WHo knew?

  60. Thom Burke -  September 7, 2010 - 10:43 am

    Yeah, gardner, but if one accepts the stated origin of the corporation’s name, the sailor in Moby Dick was called Starbuck, not Starbucks. Adding an S indicates the plural, so there has to be several folks named Starbuck connected with the coffee seller? Starbuck’s, with an apostrophe showing possession makes more sense, as in Starbuck’s Cafe.

  61. ty -  September 7, 2010 - 10:42 am

    I like the gently tone of these posts. Let’s keep it up.

  62. D-Rod -  September 7, 2010 - 10:40 am

    But the character’s name is Starbuck, not Starbucks. Maybe the teachers weren’t so good at punctuation, so they quit teaching and started a coffee company.

  63. the gardener -  September 7, 2010 - 9:52 am

    It’s Starbucks and not Starbuck’s for the same reason it’s James and not Jame’s. It’s a name, not a possessive.

  64. wazzup pplz -  September 7, 2010 - 9:41 am

    mmmmmmm….. i love chai soooo caffinated…..
    weeelll anyway a rather informational story

  65. SweetPretzel -  September 7, 2010 - 9:17 am

    I dont drink coffee, but i like the blogs. Keep them up! :)

  66. Tracy -  September 7, 2010 - 5:43 am

    I’ve called coffee “jump juice” for years because it jump starts my day. I don’t know if this predates the juice bar by the same name, but I began using the term decades before I ever heard of the place.

  67. KStil -  September 7, 2010 - 4:52 am

    I’ve also heard that the ‘Joe’ is for G.I. Joes, who drank coffee all the time as well. I suppose both occurrences are equally likely, maybe even both happened. :) The mysteries of philology and lexicography.

  68. To J.D. from K.I. -  September 7, 2010 - 4:12 am

    Allegororically speaking, a pair of jeans refers to personae in Moby-Dick and Joe the politican. I am a bit tipsy as usual and I do not figure out which one is which. I might get it all misunderstood.

  69. GWSTB -  September 7, 2010 - 4:00 am

    An interesting story.

  70. Nikki -  September 7, 2010 - 1:04 am

    Yeah. I forgot to say though that there is a possibility it was Josephus Daniels :)


  71. Nikki -  September 7, 2010 - 1:04 am

    Nice effort Hot Word, but after some research I found that’s not what cup o’ Joe is named after. Apparently cup o’ Joe is named after Joseph Grande, a man who made “chocobubble coffee”. It was a half-failure half-success but everybody liked it – cup o’ Joe was officially made, named after Grande.

    Nicola, aka Nikki

  72. Lela Jenkins -  September 7, 2010 - 12:46 am

    But why is it Starbucks instead of Starbuck’s?


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