Why Does R have Such a Strange Name?
By Soumyadip Pal
About 40 years ago, a a few statisticians at the Bell Laboratories developed a statistical programming language. Even as the first, fully-functional version of the software was released, it was yet to be named. The developers toyed with a few ideas - “Interactive Statistical Computing System” (ISCS); just “Statistical Computing System” (SCS); “Statistical Analysis System” (SAS). The last one was ruled out because it was already taken. Eventually, they decided to simply name it “S” for two reasons - it stood for statistics, and it had a similar naming scheme to the other popular language at the time developed at Bell Laboratories - C.
A little more than a decade after S was launched, two statisticians at Auckland University took S and began to build a new programming language around it, adding new features. The gentlemen - Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman - decided to name the new language R. The name was chosen to stand for their first names as well as a tribute to S, on which R was based. Ross and Robert are known as R&R of the Statistics Department within Auckland University.
Work on R began in 1992, and the first version was released in 1994. Since 1997, the development work is done by the R Development Core Team. Currently, the team has 20 members including R&R. John Chambers, who developed S, is also on the R development team.
What began as a little project, has now become the chosen tool for data scientists and analysts worldwide. Since the initial release, R has grown to be a massive, and a powerful tool. How big is it now, you ask? Patrick Burns, the author of The R Inferno, said at an R conference in Cambridge in 2012, “If you think you can learn all of R, you are wrong. For the foreseeable future you will not even be able to keep up with the new additions.”
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Soumyadip Pal is a retail analytics professional and a passionate educator with more than 8 years in the industry and more than 7 years in the academia, currently working as a consultant with Manipal Prolearn.