Logos are powerful. What better way to remind people of a product than an eye-catching, memorable symbol? With that in mind, today we’ll answer the question ‘Why did PostgreSQL choose an elephant for its logo?’
Every product or company has its logo – something that identifies and encapsulates the essence of their brand. In time, it practically becomes the brand: can you imagine McDonald’s without its golden arches? What if the Coca-Cola logo was suddenly done in purple block print?
Logos have a way of evoking emotions, which produce a strong sense of connection and loyalty in the consumer. It sticks in your mind, linking the image with its particular product. In this article, we will return to the nineties and find out how Postgres became associated with Slonik the elephant.
Slonik Joins the Logo Zoo
Let’s take a look at a couple of the most popular tech logos. As you can see, choosing an animal to stand for a technology is not unprecedented:
|Linux has a penguin called Tux.|
|MySQL has a dolphin named Sakila.|
|PostgreSQL has an elephant known as Slonik.|
Let’s take a look at the reasons Postgres chose the elephant and how their logo evolved over the years.
The Evolution of the PostgreSQL Logo
30.12.1996 The Initial PostgreSQL Logo
The evolutionary process leading to the Postgres elephant was quite long. One of the earliest Postgres logos was a crumbling wall with ‘PostgreSQL‘ apparently breaking through. The illustration below was retrieved from the official Postgres site and dates back to 1996.
Archive: 30.12.1996 From the earliest available version of the site http://postgresql.org/,
03.04.1997 The Elephant Arises
By early 1997, big changes were brewing for PostgreSQL. January started with a name change: the initial name, “Postgre95”, was replaced with “PostgreSQL”. At this point, official discussions on the logo started; they finally resulted in an elephant, but some other ideas were offered, as this message from 1997 shows:
Date: 1997-04-03 20:36:33
Some other ideas:
derivative: a sword (derivative of the Dragon book cover -- Postgres as a tool) illustrative: a bowl of Alphabet Soup, with letters spelling out POSTGRESQL obscure: a revolver/hit man (Grosse Pt is an anagram of Postgres, and an abbreviation of the title of the new John Cusack movie)
but if you want an animal-based logo, how about some sort of elephant? After all, as the Agatha Christie title read, elephants can remember ...
Archive: 03.04.1997 The idea of the Elephant
This may have been the ‘Dragon book cover’ referred to in the message.
In many cultures, elephants are indeed reputed to have a great memory. (The Agatha Christie book Elephants Can Remember uses this as a recurring theme.) An elephant logo can be interpreted in different ways, but the most common would be that elephants, like databases, are great keepers of information.
This idea caught on, but not everyone agreed with it. The citation below, taken from a 1997 pgql-hackers mailing group discussion, shows a different take on the elephant idea:
>> but if you want an animal-based logo, how about some sort of elephant?
>> After all, as the Agatha Christie title read, elephants can remember ...
I am afraid elephant will give people a wrong idea. They’ll think
Postgres is large, slow, bulky database. People?
12.12.1997 A Cheetah Logo?
Despite the fact that the elephant was already picked for the logo, in late 1997 a cheetah and the inscription “Empowered PostgreSQL” was used. A version of it is shown below. The Postgres “brick wall” graphic from 1996 was also used.
Archive: 12.12.1997 Cheetah
1998 – 1999 The Elephant Breaks Through the Wall
After the logo with the cheetah, another version was introduced: an elephant breaking through the brick wall. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to retrieve this graphic, but have a look at the following remarks:
Slightly off the topic, I still remember the logo being the elephant breaking through the brick wall... And before that, it was the word ‘PostgreSQL’ breaking through the brick wall. Unfortunately there was a time in 1998 and 1999 that we are not archived on the WayBack Machine;
June 1998 Other Ideas for the Postgres Logo
During June 1998, further discussion on the pgsql-hackers mailing group was full of various propositions for the logo, such as a:
Lioness or tigress..
2) Have the lioness resting on top. Her hind quarters are nestled into the top of the "Po". The weight of her fore legs are on the "re", with her front paws coming up onto the "S". Her tail is wrapped around the "P", coming underneath the "Post" portion. It is just starting to curl downward at the end of the tail, between the "s" and the "t". Her head up and alert, and is turned half way between looking forward (our right) and towards us. Her expression is powerful and self satisfied.
3) At the top left, i.e. above her rump, in smaller letters, have the text "Powered by".
4) I think it would look better if the lioness had an animated look. This would let it show up better printed out on a black and white printer.
If people prefer a tigress, you could do the same thing. She wouldn’t look particularly Exxonish in this pose. Mind you, I’m not sure how you would distinguish a tigress from a tiger.
David Friend, 3.04.1997
Someone came up with an alligator as our totem...but nobody seemed able to come up with a *strong* image to use :( I kinda like an elephant or turtle...a little slower, but highly dependable…
Marc G. Fournier 3.06.1998
Cheetah, gazelle, an eagle...
The alligators look good and certainly were more effort. If we must do an animal, I think the original logo had it right – something FAST – a cheetah, a gazelle, can’t go wrong with an eagle in this country :)
Steve Logue 4.06.1998
1) If you really want an animal then why not a DOG? the best friend of man ;-)
...but I don’t think that an animal is a good image for PostgreSQL.
Jose’Soares Da Silva 8.06.1998
I think PostgreSQL is a DataBASE system. Because of this, I think logo should be something that is BASE. For example, bridge – big and strong bridge full of pieces of data. Or full of trucks full of data.
Oleg Broytmann 8.06.1998
And, once again, the elephant…
> On Fri, 24 Jul 1998, The Hermit Hacker wrote:>
> > We’ve never really been able to come up with an agreeable image of
> > "the mascot"...last I heard, we were looking at an alligator, with some
> > images having been made, but no final image decided on...
> But then, an alligator would probably turn out looking too much like
> the Netscape Mozilla dinosaur (or whatever the hell it’s supposed
> to be :-), don’t ya think?
Hey, my preference is an elephant. Big, strong, reliable and never forgets…
Dan Delaney 23.06.1998
Source: source: https://www.postgresql.org/message-id/Pine.BSF.3.96.980724100406.537Bfirstname.lastname@example.org
13.10.1999 Elephant in the diamond
In October 1999, the idea of a cheetah on the Postgres logo was finally abandoned. An elephant inside a diamond became the official logo.
Archive: 13.10.1999 Elephant The archive of PostgreSQL site ,
29.02.2000 “PostgreSQL Search” with an Elephant in the Diamond
In February 2000, the elephant and diamond were joined by the words “PostgreSQL Search”.
Archive: 29.02.2000 Elephant
28.01.2003 The Current Logo
In 2003, a stylized blue elephant was introduced.
Archive: 28.01.2003 Elephant
According to a September 2013 discussion, the previous logo was considered to be less than attractive (to say the least!). Soon after launching PostgreSQL Inc, the blue elephant was designed:
Our first logo was one Jan designed, which was a elephant in a diamond. While the idea was nice, it looked terrible, so when Marc and Greg launched PostgreSQL Inc. they hired an actual designer who created the blue elephant we have now. This design was then contributed to the community.
Josh Berkus, PostgreSQL contributor, 20.09.2013
23.08.2006 A Touch of History
After the debut of the blue elephant logo, resources about the history of relational databases began showing PostgreSQL with the new logo alongside the date of the original elephant logo.
Archive: 23.08.2006 Elephant
How Did the Postgres Elephant Get Its Name?
Just looking at the current logo can make any programmer think “Postgres”. However, not everyone knows that the elephant has a name: Slonik, which is derived from the Russian word for "little elephant". Unfortunately, the date and circumstances of choosing this particular name are unknown. Probably it started with the Postgres project Slony-I. Slony-I is an asynchronous master-slave replication system. Here’s what Jan Wieck remembers on the subject:
BTW, that image on the website had "slonik" as filename or "alt" text, don’t remember exactly. Back then I wondered what that means.
Fuzzy memory here, but isn’t it russian for elephant?
Slon = Elephant
Slony = Elephants
Slonik = Dumbo
In my replication system, one node is a slon (hence the name of the replication engine executable). The group or cluster is called Slony and the scripting aid used to "ask" for various actions to take place is named slonik :)
Jan Wieck, 10 Jul 2004
Indeed, the name comes from the Russian word "слоны" (slony) which means "elephants". From this Postgres project, we get the following terminology:
Slony – the plural word for elephants, which indicates that a cluster consists of multiple databases.
Slon – the singular word for elephant; each replication node is managed by a program named "slon", which aggregates together into the aforementioned "cluster of elephants".
Slonik – the word for a "little elephant," and thus the name of the program used to configure the cluster.
The Alternative Postgres Logo – A Turtle
In some areas, Postgres is represented quite a bit differently. For example, the Japan PostgreSQL User Group (JPUG) – a very active worldwide group – has established its own logo in place of Slonik.
Their choice was a turtle. Back in the 1970s, a turtle was used as the INGRES mascot; it was retained for Postgres. According to the Berkeley Database Group:
The turtle was adopted as a mascot by the INGRES group in the ’70s because `it’s slow but it gets there’. It was retained as the POSTGRES mascot for sentimental reasons.
Why does JPUG use a Postgres turtle? Some suggest that a blue elephant had unsuitable similarities to the symbol used by the domestic terrorist group linked to the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack.
As with other products, the Postgres logo was carefully chosen after many years of discussion. Eventually, it became its present form: an elephant named Slonik.
Stories like this one are common. If you know the history behind other tech logos, please share them in the comment section below.