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!



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Dibs on naming something in my life Alyx.

Chef316 says:

Your future child?

eh, probably a cat or dog

Aman2901 says:

Future child..probably a dog or a cat..huh?? Dan??

Sumit8 says:

are you stupid?

Daniel, they removed some features in the final version of WP 8.1, as this image shows "Never used", "Category" etc WHY? 


SwimSwim says:

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.

taymur says:

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

mango.lover says:

Have Cortana call you that.

Editguy1900 says:

Sorry, I already have a niece named that, same spelling.

Tafsern says:

My penis is called Alyx. It's awesome.

How do you know it's awesome...oh..no..

pookyjoralyn says:

huh, the comments are never moderated!

...This would've been extremely cool, yet extremely awkward for me.

frett says:

LOL awesome

I kinda like it.. It's gender neutral and doesn't sound silly. Still prefer Cortana, but not a bad alternative.

wpguy says:

Funny.... I would have considered Alyx to be feminine. All the Alyxes I have met are female.

IamDefiler says:

This name was already used in Half-Life 2.

laserfloyd says:

My kid is named Alex....close enough. Glad Cortana made it. My house is chaotic enough. I dont need more confusion. LOL

duk3togo says:

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

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.

Chef316 says:

That would have been horrible...apple would be all over that one!

abdhoms says:

Iris... Javis... Hmmm. Sounds good. Cortana is better.

I'd have liked JARVIS ;)

xFalk says:

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.

poddie says:

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.

fwaits says:

Iris is Siri backwards... /facepalm

jomarr says:

So they're basing their 'features' on eye parts. Can't wait for them to call their "4K like resolution" the Pupil Display!

Xanderone says:

Lol. And with Conjuctival enhancement.

Skippy07 says:

"the Pupil Display"

Ok, that made me literally LOL!

Nice one!

KMF79 says:

What stopped you from writing "laugh"?

AleksanderB says:

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.


ladydias says:

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?

ratsttam says:

It's also a Siri clone app in the Google Play Store (at least it was still there about a year ago).

xerox13ster says:

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.

weijoon says:

Iris also used to be a character name in Megaman X4, the Colonel sister~

coldfish85 says:

iris - just opposite of siri lol. That wouldn't have settled well.

gajomau says:

Eventually not choosing iris saved us from bad jokes like iris becoming sauron eye.. Or something like that :D

andrewb65 says:

What's wrong with Iris? It's s nice name.

Should've gone with 'Easy'. It's easy to remember.

tonymus says:

Your phone's "Easy"? Keep it away from my phone... :-)

ortizang says:

It the had named it Iris iPhone users were gonna say that Microsoft was imitating Siri.

Agreed, I hate these pretentious ways of spellng common names these days.

KMF79 says:

You and me both. The intentional misspelling of app names to match their phonetic pronunciation also pisses me off. Both are irritating.

rohitsingh says:

Cortana hit Alyx out of the park.

mango.lover says:

Another little-known bit: Cortana is code-named Halsey.

It reminds me the name of Khalisi, form Game of thrones. Lol

iyae says:

Daenerys?? It sounds nothing like that.

cruelvaldez says:

They should have picked Daenerys Targaryen instead of Cortana lol it just sounds so epic

Sumit8 says:

Are you stupid? He said it sounds like Khalisi. Not Daenerys.

b23h says:

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....

Zuka_WPC says:

Cortana has a nice backend.

jaywinjv says:

Haha. Feels weird talking to the circle now...

aafa says:

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

Arazius83 says:

Pro tip: Ask Cortana who doctor Halsey is.

Nazir Taib says:

Alyx... Hahaha.. Luckily it's not.

terrokkinit says:

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

bjax says:

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.

The_Lord23 says:

I didn't know stones had feelings

b23h says:

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.

bjax says:

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.

ajit920 says:

I doubt that!! They aren't listening to XBox music and video users ...

Editguy1900 says:

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.

CrazyQwert says:

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 :/

CrazyQwert says:

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 :/

AnubhavSingh says:

Well I'm glad its Cortana and not Alyx! Btw, enjoying The hunting party on OneMusic :P

Aman2901 says:

I got all the 12 tunes on 13th only!!

AnubhavSingh says:

Wow :-o really? Well anyws.. M loving it..

Aman2901 says:

My friend in Texas shared it on Onedrive with me..Too much guitars this time..

mango.lover says:

Really? OneMusic opened for me the first time it ran, and has crashed every time subsequently.

AnubhavSingh says:

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!

CrazyQwert says:

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

b23h says:


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.

Aman2901 says:

Maybe Captain Price from COD??

hs k says:

Soap! Soap...noooo. Lol, it would be like full metal jacket every morning.

Aman2901 says:

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?"

Aman2901 says:

Aaron Paul has the voice of a mysterious serial killer..

b23h says:

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...

blackprince says:

Motherfucker is better

josonjoy1986 says:

And maybe Morgan Freeman's voice ??? :P

kaycon77 says:

No....NO. I have an ex with that name, exact spelling. That would be awful.

Aman2901 says:

Maybe your ex is now going to haunt you using your phone.. Beware!!

b23h says:

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.


demonp82 says:

Alyx was a girl from Half-Life 2.

wpguy says:

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.

KMF79 says:

The "One" is Xbox three.

moc426 says:

Alyx is a bad name. They probably were going for shirt 4 letter name

RodimusMajor says:

Wait, Alyx? As in, like, Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2? Hmm...I admit, that name works pretty well for a sidekick/companion, too.

Wagan8r says:

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.

pulkit10 says:

Alyx? Whatever happened to cool names like Oathkeeper? Or Kingslayer?
They should have consulted George R.R. Martin on this one.

DJCBS says:

If they did that, Cortana would be dead by the first update :P

ChrisLynch says:

Or the name would always be "coming", and never arrive. Kind of like Winter thus far in the show...

pulkit10 says:

Jeez that would be the perfect name for a usable version of Xbox Music then.

psychotron says:

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.

Farnic says:

Alyx, when does Half-Life 3 come out?

b23h says:

"I'll get back to you on that"

error error error

CrazyQwert says:

3 times error! Half life 3 confirmed!

b23h says:

lol, that's stretching it, but ok then.

SAM 77 says:

They should have put it up as a poll.
Very cool name!!!!

Eas195 says:

Glad it's not called JARVIS, though :D

DJCBS says:

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.

TechFreak1 says:

Or Alfred, voiced by Michael Caine from the recent Batman trilogy?

For those who want an alternative to Cortana :p.

ven07 says:

What about HAL9000 :P

Kram Sacul says:

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.

crise says:

I wouldn't know how to pronounce it, and the fact that you have to figure it out is too much. Terrible name.

psychotron says:

Like the pronunciation of "Cortana" would be that obvious to people who haven't played Halo?? Not.

atherosxd says:

Some would pronounce it as alix :)

hprvez says:

That's how it should be pronounced, not that hard eh?

Cortana is good because i dont think anyone else would have this name

xconomicron says:

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.

ChrisLynch says:

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.

xmarklive says:

How about master chief or Darth

I'm the one who started the petition :D

xconomicron says:

^^^^We should all be thanking this dude!^^^^

chmun77 says:

"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.....

SinisterDuck says:

They've nixed that for now.

ZipZapRap says:

Alyx is pretty cool. But Cortana wins.


I still want to rename her to Shodan.

Sin Ogaris says:

I'd rather my phone didn't try to kill me, so I'll pass on Shodan. Cool reference though.

astroXP says:

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 !

Aman2901 says:

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!!

Sin Ogaris says:

Paul Bettany as the voice would be awesome.

Good to hear MSFT listens to its consumers...Hope is alive

Lumio says:

Alyx from Half life?



Should have been Anya from gears of war

sarim_xyz says:

They could call her 'Alexis', Castle's genius daughter :D

b23h says:

She's great but no.   Cortana is best, however browncoats rule!!!

I wouldn't have minded helping Kaylee with fixing Serenity's engine....

wpguy says:

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.

sholokov says:

Thanks Microsoft for listening to us!

KFBradley says:

Man, I really wish they had kept a way to sort apps by most used on WP 8.1...

clvrbas says:

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. :)

cybermoose89 says:

Hope uk has Cortana soon

onysi says:

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

pr0phecy says:

"Here's what Microsoft's Cortana was almost called before you changed everything"
Oh so now it's OUR fault huh? :P

Why Not says:

Alyx is bad... Just not as bad as cortnana.

MaulerX says:

Yea, cortnana would have been awful.

morpheusxp says:

Isn't Cortnana Rihanna's lil sister?

nez99 says:

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.

blackprince says:

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..

tchaikie says:

Thank goodness

buggyglint says:

Alyx... I like it. It could've also been voiced by the same actor who was Alyx in Half-Life 2.

houkoholic says:

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.

TechFreak1 says:

Indeed and this also gives them the opportunity to make a special windows phone bundle for halo 5 :p.

gcdc_lumia says:

alyx seems like a horrible hipster alex who tries too hard to be different. blehk!
cortana sounds more sophisticated.
much class. so sexy. wow.

Cryio says:

So Microsoft was to use a Valve character ?

Th3 I3LooD says:

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.

crise says:

Alyx.. God how terrible is MS with naming their products. Amazing.

wpguy says:

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.

TechFreak1 says:

+1020 Hahaha was going to say that myself :p.

tallgeese says:

Cortana has one too many syllables, but it will do.

enahs555 says:

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!

wpguy says:

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.