How the PHP acronym was reborn

While reminiscing what PHP was like back in the early early years, I stumbled upon a little historical nugget from the old website. Do you know what the acronym PHP stands for? Many of us do, or think we do, but just in case take a guess from:

  • PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor
  • PHP: Hypermedia Preprocessor
  • PHP: HTML Preprocessor
  • Professional Home Pages

But how was the definition chosen? For fun, here’s a look back at the official vote that determined this new meaning way back in 1998. It might be worth mentioning that Rasmus, the father of PHP, did not vote for the eventual winner. Oh, you gotta love Open Source! :-)

A couple notable quotes that could be taken out of context:

  • *: “… I think I would prefer to just call it PHP and leave it up to the users to assign a meaning to the acronym. People Hate Programming, People Hate Perl, Please Hold Parties, Pretty HTML Programs, Perfect HTML Pages, Putrid Hateful Puke… whatever.” ~ Rasmus, 1998
  • *: “… Now, if some animal whose name started with ‘P’ were to be mysteriously associated with PHP we could have something like a Piranha HTML Preprocessor. What other P animals are there? Penguin, Platypus, Polar Bear, Porcupine, Puffin…” ~ Rasmus, 1998

And a few other notes:

  • Back in late 1997, the name temporarily and unceremoniously changed from the earlier ‘Personal Home Pages / Forms Interpreter’ to ‘Professional Home Pages’ and this was noted within RC releases of PHP 3. People were not content, and wanted more, so later this was changed after the vote and before PHP 3.0.0 was officially released.
  • This thread started the idea of really changing the name, which eventually lead to keeping the PHP name, then to using a geeky GNU type recursive acronym. Other thoughts like keeping PHP but with no meaning, or a monthly meaning, were entertained but did not happen.
  • These official viewpoints compared the two leading candidates by pitting “PHP: HTML Preprocessor” against “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor” with each side providing detailed arguments for why they should be the definition behind PHP. Note the arguments were written when the Internet was relatively young, which might explain the XML replacing HTML hype… :-)
  • Official meaning for PHP is: PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor

Needless to say, this is now history. PHP is still PHP and we love it all the same.

12 thoughts on “How the PHP acronym was reborn”

  1. Plus, the elephant mascot was chosen because the letters of “PHP” resemble an elephant. Sadly, there isn’t a single elephant found on

  2. Rasmus will claim to have a disinterest in the expanded meaning of the letters, but ask him about his kid’s name sometime. He’s just a big ‘ol recursive acronym junkie… ;)

  3. Excellent, thanks for the superb history! A friend asked me the other day what it stood for and I had no idea. I was quite sheepish! I’ll now proudly launch in to geek speak and bore her to death.

    And Dietrich, thanks for the tidbit on the elephant, very cool!

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