Facebook just sounds like a social media site, but the word facebook originates from something. I looked online and found nothing relevant to the origin of the word. Would you please shed a light?

Note: The question is about the noun facebook and it is not directly asking the origin of the proper noun Facebook (the company name).

Although, as a side note, it is mentioned that the trademark of the company is in lowercase but it starts with upper case most of the time:

The official trademarked name of the social-networking service and website is spelled “facebook,” all lowercase letters. Formal writing style—as exemplified by most news and book publishers—is to treat such names as regular proper nouns, in this case “Facebook,” using an initial capital letter. dictionary.reference.com

The noun facebook is not easily searchable in Google and Google Books (because of the vast amount of "Facebook" results). Additionally, Google doesn't offer case sensitive search.

It is not in OED also.

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  • @BoltClock: I'd suspected that "facebook" might have been an established term for "directory" at Harvard... looks like that was the case. – ExOttoyuhr Jun 4 '15 at 17:01
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    It's all on Wikipedia: "Harvard did not have a student "Facebook" (a directory with photos and basic information) " en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook#History / "A face book or Facebook is a printed or web directory found at American universities consisting of individuals’ photographs and names. In particular, it denotes publications of this type distributed by university administrations at the start of the academic year with the intention of helping students get to know each other." – Hugo Jun 5 '15 at 7:16
  • The year 1983 is not mentioned in Wikipedia. It says mid-1980s. – 0.. Jun 5 '15 at 18:15
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    Google Books is supposed to offer case-insensitive search in Ngrams, but it fails dismally for this word. – Andrew Leach Jun 10 '15 at 5:07


directory listing names and headshots, by 1983, originally among U.S. college students, from face (n.) + book (n.). The social networking Web site of that name (with capital F-) dates from 2004.

It is hard to trace back the noun "facebook" in Google Books (because of "Facebook") but I could trace back to 1988. Here is an excerpt from the book Letting Go: A Parents Guide to Today's College Experience from 1988:

We were supposed to send in a picture to be in the freshman facebook. I didn't want to have my face in the facebook.

  • At my school, the facebook was often dubbed the "Pig Book" (officially, it was the New Student Register) presumably because it was used to poke fun at freshmen in their uncool high school garb and coiffure, yet it was also used by the fraternities when sending invitations for their frosh teas— and I'm guessing the chance of getting an invitation depended a bit less on the major and hometown and a bit more on the picture. – choster Jun 4 '15 at 17:19
  • Have you tried NGrams from before 2005? – Mitch Jun 9 '15 at 17:13
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    @Mitch: Yes, I tried. I could find the citation from 1988. I can update if you can find earlier examples. It might have been more prevalent in spoken language. – 0.. Jun 10 '15 at 15:18
  • The question seems like it would have been answered multiple times already as part of Facebook company lore, like asked of Zuckerberg in 2008 where he came up with it. The research is probably not so much dictionary search as it is Harvard or Exeter history. – Mitch Jun 10 '15 at 16:36

@ermanen's etymology is correct, and Harvard definitely had a physical printed book that listed students' names and addresses, but Zuckerberg most likely got the name of his social media site from the printed directory produced by his high school, Phillips Exeter Academy.

"The Facebook" from Exeter

Check out this article, where a former Exeter classmate of Zuckerberg says,

"The front cover says "The Photo Address Book," but we all called it "The Facebook" all the time because "The Photo Address Book" was such a mouthful. Everybody called it that."

Also note that the first version of Zuckerberg's site was called "The Facebook".

And here's a fun clip from the movie The Social Network where you hear Harvard students referring to it as "the facebook".


I chanced upon, I think, the earliest mentioned word of Facebook on youtube - Newhart, episode 115 titled "Here's To You Mrs. Loudon," at 1:11 minute, aired September 14, 1987

George Utley: The Beavers are putting out a facebook.
Dick Loudon: facebook??
George Utley: You know, a book of pictures of our faces with our names under them. All the Beavers except me have nicknames ...

YouTube video


When I went to college in the sixties both my school, Rhode Island School of Design and neighboring Brown University had mug books or face books wher you could search for your classmates by name or face.

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