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What's In A Name? For Alibaba, It's 'Treasure'

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, in case you're wondering why Alibaba, a Chinese company, has an Arabic name, the story begins - where else - in a San Francisco coffee shop.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That's where Jack Ma, the company's founder, was evidently sitting years ago when he was thinking of names for his company. He once told CNN he liked the sound of Alibaba.

BLOCK: So he asked his waitress, do you know about Ali Baba? And she answered, open sesame.

SIEGEL: That's from the folktale "Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves." The hero is a poor woodcutter who says those magic words to break into a vault of treasure.

BLOCK: Jack Ma kept asking people from all backgrounds. They all knew the reference.

SIEGEL: But Ali Baba is not a perfect hero. He steals a stash of gold. And he almost gets killed.

BLOCK: But he survives and makes off, well, like a bandit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.