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Here's what Microsoft's Cortana was almost called before you changed everything

In hindsight, Microsoft naming its personal voice assistant after the famous AI character from the Halo game series seems like an obvious choice. The decision was not so easy partially due to an individual studio having initial objections and the usual corporate obstacles potentially thwarting its adoption.

But if not Cortana what would Microsoft have called their feature smart engine for Windows Phone?

In an interesting Twitter conversation with Marcus Ash, Group Program Manager for Cortana on Windows Phone, it's revealed 'Alyx' was an early frontrunner for the official name, instead of Cortana.

So what changed their mind? It was you, the vociferous multitudes of dedicated Windows Phone users, who clamored for Cortana with all your might, that's who.

In a series of Tweets tonight, Ash explained how it happened:

"We looked at uservoice and saw that (via leak), our customers liked the idea of the #Cortana name. Gave us confidence it was a good idea"One thing not mentioned in the Cortana name discussion as part of #MeetMSFT was importance of our community in choosing the name.""…But our community spoke and folks like @joebelfiore had our back…"

The leak Ash refers to screenshots of a very early build of Windows Phone 8 Update 3 and 8.1 last June that made their way on to the internet. As a result, the zCortana app, which was one of the first versions of the nascent service, was spotted in the screenshots and from there, a campaign began to convince Microsoft to use the moniker.

The rest, as they say, is now history. But just remember, we could have had Alyx instead of Cortana.

Source: @MarcusAsh; Thanks, Daniel, for the tip!

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

222 Comments
  • Dibs on naming something in my life Alyx.
  • Your future child?
  • eh, probably a cat or dog
  • Future child..probably a dog or a cat..huh?? Dan??
  • are you stupid?
  • Name me Alyx
  • Daniel, they removed some features in the final version of WP 8.1, as this image shows "Never used", "Category" etc WHY?   
  • It's one of the many features that was in early builds of 8.1, but didn't quite make it to the final version. Just like actionable notifications.
  • Just want to say, that your increased presence in the comment section, makes a lot of difference, a positive difference. Thanks, and keep it up. :D
  • Future child is way too extreme even for a hardcore windows phone fan lol
  • Have Cortana call you that.
  • Sorry, I already have a niece named that, same spelling.
  • My penis is called Alyx. It's awesome.
  • How do you know it's awesome...oh..no..
  • huh, the comments are never moderated!
  • ...This would've been extremely cool, yet extremely awkward for me.
  • LOL awesome
  • I kinda like it.. It's gender neutral and doesn't sound silly. Still prefer Cortana, but not a bad alternative.
  • Funny.... I would have considered Alyx to be feminine. All the Alyxes I have met are female.
  • This name was already used in Half-Life 2.
  • My kid is named Alex....close enough. Glad Cortana made it. My house is chaotic enough. I dont need more confusion. LOL
  • It's actually a nice name. It would be cool if MS lets us change the name of Cortana. Then e can call her whatever people want but Cortana sounds futuristic.
  • erm... im pretty sure there is a way to change her name
  • Should the (second) obvious choice be "Anna"? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Anna
  • Hmm
  • I can't say I care about Cortana, but I'm very glad we didn't end up with that awful, hipster name,
  • 'Iris' was also floated as one choice...which is funny if you think about it, but also cheesy.
  • That would have been horrible...apple would be all over that one!
  • Iris... Javis... Hmmm. Sounds good. Cortana is better.
  • I'd have liked JARVIS ;)
  • Too much like Jeeves, as in Ask Jeeves.
  • You know I think they should have done something customizeable. English is my second language and though I lived for 8 years in New Zealand, "Cortana" still does kind of has a lame ring to it, it might just be me though, thinking in another language or the fact that I'm not a big Halo fan. If you could customize it then you could have Jarvis, Cortana, hell even " 'Phone' remind me to do the grocery on the way back home.", pretty much whatever.
  • Too much work getting license from Disney who now owns Marvel.
  • Iris is actually really clever... and much better than Alyx. But Cortana is by far the best choice. Sound cool whether you get the Halo reference or not.
  • Iris is Siri backwards... /facepalm
  • hisss
  • So they're basing their 'features' on eye parts. Can't wait for them to call their "4K like resolution" the Pupil Display!
  • Lol. And with Conjuctival enhancement.
  • "the Pupil Display" Ok, that made me literally LOL! Nice one!
  • What stopped you from writing "laugh"?
  • Of course it is not. Iris is Ancient Greek's goddess, personification of rainbow, and a Gods' messenger. I bet, instead of circle, there would be a little rainbow as assistants symbol :], if the name was chosen.  
  • An iris is also a type of flower. Glad we didn't wind up with that as it's a tad bit on the old lady side as far as names go.
  • Don't you mean the Egyptian goddess Isis?
  • It's also a Siri clone app in the Google Play Store (at least it was still there about a year ago).
  • Iris already exists as a personal assistant app on Android, and was around well before Google Now, but it never really took off. Its best feature was bringing up ratings and stats for movies if you asked if you should watch a movie. Also you could call up individual songs to play to your default player if the song had all its information. It pretty much sucked and it was named Iris as a middle finger to Siri.
  • Iris also used to be a character name in Megaman X4, the Colonel sister~
  • iris - just opposite of siri lol. That wouldn't have settled well.
  • Eventually not choosing iris saved us from bad jokes like iris becoming sauron eye.. Or something like that :D
  • What's wrong with Iris? It's s nice name. Should've gone with 'Easy'. It's easy to remember.
  • Your phone's "Easy"? Keep it away from my phone... :-)
  • It the had named it Iris iPhone users were gonna say that Microsoft was imitating Siri.
  • Absolutely right
  • Agreed, I hate these pretentious ways of spellng common names these days.
  • You and me both. The intentional misspelling of app names to match their phonetic pronunciation also pisses me off. Both are irritating.
  • Cortana hit Alyx out of the park.
  • Another little-known bit: Cortana is code-named Halsey.
  • It reminds me the name of Khalisi, form Game of thrones. Lol
  • Daenerys?? It sounds nothing like that.
  • They should have picked Daenerys Targaryen instead of Cortana lol it just sounds so epic
  • Aye :D
  • Hodor?
  • Hodor!
  • Are you stupid? He said it sounds like Khalisi. Not Daenerys.
  • Hal!!! Haha
  • Talderon here on the site says Cortana's back end is called Halsey. Writting back end in this situation sounds a little different then when I read it....
  • Cortana has a nice backend.
  • Haha. Feels weird talking to the circle now...
  • If you follow the Halo story, Dr Halsey designed the Spartan project...ie, she's basically the mother of Master Chief...oh, she also created Cortana too. She's no big deal
  • Pro tip: Ask Cortana who doctor Halsey is.
  • Alyx... Hahaha.. Luckily it's not.
  • Proof that Microsoft actually listens to its customers on user feedback. They focus SO much on the customer experience, and rightfully so! #Cortana for the win!! :-D
  • And further proof that they should listen to us. I don't know if they do this, but they should totally have focus groups made up of tech sites bloggers/reviewers, pro-sumers, and regular consumers when bringing out products. They probably could've saved themselves some major headaches before they announced their original Xbox One plans.
  • What would they have changed though? From the did I've read xbox users are basically split between liking what Ms was doing and thinking they should have done something else. Stone like kinect others hate it, stone don't like it for games but still think its needed. A lot of people didn't want the games because of fears over selling disks, others would like to not have to put a disk in the machine. If they had removed all the extra stuff they were putting on and gone just for games they'd also still have the performance issues a they had no way of knowing what Sony would have. Then it really would have been a case of 2 consoles, same price, same features but the ps4 is faster.
  • I didn't know stones had feelings
  • They're hard, but they are not insensitive.  
  • I didn't know feelings had stones
  • Kidneys can have stones. :/
  • I smell a WordFlow keyboard user. I'm all too familiar with the incorrectly predicted words of WordFlow. Stone, ask, I'll... Ugh. Wish there was a recognition training mode to better learn what you usually mean.
  • There is a training mode:  EVERY message you send.  Just select the mis-recognized word and select the one you want from the list.  Frequency dictates precedence.  Sounds like this guy is just happy with his stones.
  • They would've changed the exact things they did end up changing...they just would've done it sooner without looking like they backtracked. People just weren't ready for all the new changes Xbox one was originally offering. There's no guarantee the focus group would've come up with a consensus, but they would've had a least a small sense of which way the wind was blowing.
  • What I understand was it was people's fuss over DRM and shareability of the games were the issues, more so than the Kinect. You had to install the game to the console like you would install a program (like Office), and "used" copies would require purchasing a new license key for the software. This greatly increased the cost of used games by essentially charging the price for a digital copy + the cost of the disc, and only the disc would be sellable used. This also meant you couldn't loan your disc to a friend. However the DRM was in place for advanced features that didn't make it past the outcry. It was reasonable if one considered the originally designed features. The gamers wanted the freedom to use the features, but didn't want to be told they couldn't install the game then resell the disc, which would eat into profits of the software. At least, that's my understanding.
  • Off topic, but I think another part of the DRM reversal were rumours that studios would somehow hobble the shared digital copy with restricted functionality, aka demo mode on shared titles.
  • I doubt that!! They aren't listening to XBox music and video users ...
  • Not everything is easily done or changed. It doesn't mean they're not listening. I'm actually impressed that a corporation the size of MSFT listens at all.
  • They actually do! They are just quite slow and I have no idea how they messed up that hard that they note have to rebuild everything from the ground :/
  • They actually do! They are just quite slow and I have no idea how they messed up that hard that they now have to rebuild everything from the ground :/
  • Well I'm glad its Cortana and not Alyx! Btw, enjoying The hunting party on OneMusic :P
  • I got all the 12 tunes on 13th only!!
  • Wow :-o really? Well anyws.. M loving it..
  • My friend in Texas shared it on Onedrive with me..Too much guitars this time..
  • Really? OneMusic opened for me the first time it ran, and has crashed every time subsequently.
  • Yeah its showing too many bugs :/ it doesn't show the album art when the music is changed while the phone is locked! Moreover it sometimes lag too.. No way I'm buying it!
  • It actually seems to be very hard to build a music player. Every third party one is even worse than xbm ...
  • Cortana is much better than alyx
  • Valve would have probably sued them if they called it Alyx :p
  • yup... Valve isn't even freaking frenemies with MS from my perspective.   I think Steam's move toward linux is all about Gabe's hatred of MS.   But then I don't know shit from Shinola.
  • Maybe Captain Price from COD??
  • Soap! Soap...noooo. Lol, it would be like full metal jacket every morning.
  • It can be Captain Ma©tavish also..Soap remind me to buy that soap for mah sexy wife..That won't work!!
  • They should've had Aaron Paul be the voice for a DI named "J.P." and when you hit the search button it would say things like: "What do you need today bitch?"
  • I second that.
  • Aaron Paul has the voice of a mysterious serial killer..
  • uh, yea...    that would be quite inappropriate. I am very anti the casual use of the word "bitch", but then again who cares what I think.
  • Dude watch the show and you'll understand...
  • Motherfucker is better
  • Haha yeah xD
  • And maybe Morgan Freeman's voice ??? :P
  • No....NO. I have an ex with that name, exact spelling. That would be awful.
  • Maybe your ex is now going to haunt you using your phone.. Beware!!
  • Bungie had problems with it or 343 Industries?
  • Wouldnt matter that much what Bungie thinks because Microsoft is their publisher and essentially owns the rights to everything Halo related.  
  • *was ;)
  • Alyx was a girl from Half-Life 2.
  • Half-Life 3 confirmed.
  • :D
  • Love that game. About once a year I replay the entire Orange Box set, which then leads to Portal 2. By the time Valve gets around to Half Life 3 and Portal 3, the Xbox Three will be out.
  • The "One" is Xbox three.
  • Alyx is a bad name. They probably were going for shirt 4 letter name
  • Wait, Alyx? As in, like, Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2? Hmm...I admit, that name works pretty well for a sidekick/companion, too.
  • Yep, but as you can see, almost nobody even knows who Alyx is. It just doesn't carry the weight of Cortana. Have you ever heard anything else named Cortana? Nope.
  • Alyx? Whatever happened to cool names like Oathkeeper? Or Kingslayer?
    They should have consulted George R.R. Martin on this one.
  • If they did that, Cortana would be dead by the first update :P
  • Or the name would always be "coming", and never arrive. Kind of like Winter thus far in the show...
  • Jeez that would be the perfect name for a usable version of Xbox Music then.
  • +CXX
  • What about Needle :P
  • +1520
  • Hodor.
  • Neither of those names have anything to do with a personal assistant and certainly don't sound technological or futuristic, which I think is kind of the appeal when naming a a feature like this.
  • Alyx, when does Half-Life 3 come out?
  • "I'll get back to you on that" error error error
  • 3 times error! Half life 3 confirmed!
  • lol, that's stretching it, but ok then.
  • They should have put it up as a poll.
    Wow!!!!
    Very cool name!!!!
  • Glad it's not called JARVIS, though :D
  • Alyx? How the hell do you even pronounce that? That would have been a complete flop of a name. Thank God Microsoft executives ended up obliging to the users will.
  • ummm...like 'Alex'
  • I vote for Jeeves. And now I shall depart from this comment section so I can be one with my humiliation.
  • Or Alfred, voiced by Michael Caine from the recent Batman trilogy? For those who want an alternative to Cortana :p.
  • What about HAL9000 :P
  • Alyx = Alex. Not that hard to figure out. Also a pretty damn good character/voice from Half-Life 2. Not that far off from what we ended up getting.
  • I wouldn't know how to pronounce it, and the fact that you have to figure it out is too much. Terrible name.
  • Like the pronunciation of "Cortana" would be that obvious to people who haven't played Halo?? Not.
  • Some would pronounce it as alix :)
  • That's how it should be pronounced, not that hard eh?
  • Cortana is good because i dont think anyone else would have this name
  • I think Cortana was probably the best direction here. It was well executed...especially how MS actually gave the iconic Cortana her voice as Jen Taylor. I still have friends (adult friends) who still can't believe that MS got this to work out in the end. It's still kind of amazing that just 8 months ago, I was signing that petition, really hoping MS would do this.
  • Exactly!!! I too signed that partition. The geek inside me almost cried when I saw the news of the name and Jen Taylor was going to voice her.
  • +920
  • +1020
  • How about master chief or Darth
  • I'm the one who started the petition :D
  • ^^^^We should all be thanking this dude!^^^^
  • THANK YOU!!!! And here is the petition.. http://windowsphone.uservoice.com/forums/101801-feature-suggestions/sugg...
  • "But if not Cortana what would Microsoft have called their feature smart engine for Windows Phone?" Soon to be smart engine for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.....
  • Hell no.
  • They've nixed that for now.
  • Alyx is pretty cool. But Cortana wins.   I still want to rename her to Shodan.
  • I'd rather my phone didn't try to kill me, so I'll pass on Shodan. Cool reference though.
  • Thank God, it didn't end up being called Alyx. That would've ruined my liking to Windows Phone… completely. There's a certain Alex I don't get along with… old history. Gawd, what a terrible coincidence it would've been !
  • Maybe Robert Downey Jr.'s Jarvis..Or maybe Microsoft is planning to release that with the Iron Man's suit..I'll but that for sure!!
  • Paul Bettany as the voice would be awesome.
  • Good to hear MSFT listens to its consumers...Hope is alive
  • Alyx from Half life?    
  • Should have been Anya from gears of war
  • They could call her 'Alexis', Castle's genius daughter :D
  • She's great but no.   Cortana is best, however browncoats rule!!! I wouldn't have minded helping Kaylee with fixing Serenity's engine....
  • Alexis would have only worked if Apple or Google would have called theirs Krystle. Then the two could have had a knock-down, drag-out catfight. But you don't have to watch the show to have an attitude.
  • Thanks Microsoft for listening to us!
  • Man, I really wish they had kept a way to sort apps by most used on WP 8.1...
  • I must be the only one that likes Alyx better. I picture myself talking to my phone and calling it Cortana seems goofy. Now if I say Alyx it might be like all knowing Alex Trebek from Jeopardy. :)
  • Hope uk has Cortana soon
  • Alyx? Gabe Newell wouldn't like it. She's the character on half life 3.
  • Eh, "Alyx" isn't too bad. But Cortana really stands out. It's not something you're likely to hear anywhere else
  • Well done
  • "Here's what Microsoft's Cortana was almost called before you changed everything"
    Oh so now it's OUR fault huh? :P
  • Alyx is bad... Just not as bad as cortnana.
  • Yea, cortnana would have been awful.
  • Isn't Cortnana Rihanna's lil sister?
  • Nana for short.
  • That makes me feel warm inside
  • That would of been a really nice name if they didn't go with the communities thoughts. I would of liked Alyx as a digital assistant.
  • Alyx is terrible.
  • Any name u keep it doesn't any difference.we should remember it's an application.that's all.I m waiting for it in my country India..
  • Thank goodness
  • Alyx... I like it. It could've also been voiced by the same actor who was Alyx in Half-Life 2.
  • Alyx might hit it off with a few Half Life geeks, but it's not distinctively MS like Halo/Cortana is so I think not going with Alyx is wise.
  • Indeed and this also gives them the opportunity to make a special windows phone bundle for halo 5 :p.
  • alyx seems like a horrible hipster alex who tries too hard to be different. blehk!
    cortana sounds more sophisticated.
    much class. so sexy. wow.
  • So Microsoft was to use a Valve character ?
  • Alyx Vance
  • Wow, great use of the english vocabulary in this article @Daniel :) maybe you can give Sam and the other guys some tuition... LoL. Very happy with the choice they made and the fact that Microsoft seems to listen more and more to their fans as they transition to a devices and services company.
  • Alyx.. God how terrible is MS with naming their products. Amazing.
  • Alyx was a definite step up from Microsoft Personal Voice-Interactive Assistant 2014 Windows Phone 8.1 Edition Release 2 with Update Pack 3. But I'm glad they went with Cortana.
  • +925
  • +1020 Hahaha was going to say that myself :p.
  • Cortana has one too many syllables, but it will do.
  • Alyx is better. The original developers that thought of Alyx had good taste in FPS games. As Half Life 2 is superior to Halo in every way, and Alyx Vance is the sexists female game character ever. She is super attractive without being slutty, she is also intelligent and not the standard game fodder princess you rescue from a castle, she is strong and independent while also being sweet. Apologies for going into gaming design too much, but I am bored of games and movies and how in general they treat women!
  • Fully agree
  • I think Chell is hotter. Even if she is a horrible person who managed to pack on a few pounds while in suspended animation, she is the main character instead of a sidekick.
  • Alyx from half life 2
  • Let me guess, the option after Alyx, other than Cortana, was .... Pat. We dodged 2 bullets there.
  • I'm willing to give it another chance if it's ever lunching in Portuguese.
    On another note, how about dumping that mess of numbers for nokia/Microsoft phones and using names for different versions?
  • Wasnt Alyx that girl from Half Life 2?
  • The leak Ash refers to screenshots of a very early build of Windows Phone 8 Update 3 and 8.1 last June that made their way on to the internet.
    This is... not a sentence. Unless "leak" is an adjective describing Ash.
  • Winning.
  • Alyx .. Yikes Microsoft dodged a bullet there haha. Cortana is MILES better. Good call!
  • I have never played Halo and have no connection to the name Cortana, and still think it's a brilliant name.
  • Alyx.... No, just no
  • Samantha ;) thats goot too ( HER)
  • Microsoft Alyx, Windows Phone Alyx, Now on Windows Phone, Alyx. Now presenting Alyx for Windows Phone. Alyx, Windows Phone's new smart Assistant. Gosh non of this sounds right. In fact its aweful, horrible. The first question people would ask is "Who the $%&# is Alyx and why is he on Windows Phone?" "Look at Microsoft trying to be cool again." We (WP fans) would have to work twice as hard to get people to see his true power, and get over the bad name. I can see it now, my friends and family laughing at me. Never name a product after a commonly used human name. Might as well have called it Jim.
  • I wish cortana will be available in the philippines too :(
  • Alyx sounds like a cool name to me and its universal name, MS could give the user a choice wether they want a male or female assistant, couldve been a win win to me. even better give the user a tool/app where the look of their assistant can be created like the xbox avatar.
  • For now, let's hope that for windows 9 when Xbox is totally merged with Windows.
  • Cortana sounds way better than Alyx anyway.
  • Why not just name it whatever you want? Just make it bluntly a personal assistant.
  • This idea is better too.. MS lets us name whatever we like...
  • I like Alyx better
  • Alyx sounds cool and assistant-like than Cortana
  • Valve would have been so mad.
  • Stupid question. What app is with letter K ??
  • MMMM, Half Life 2 anyone???