Don Melton, former Apple programmer, writing on his personal blog:
During the Summer of ‘02, Steve Jobs and the Apple management team realized that we were going to pull this off — we could actually ship a Web browser by the end of the year. And at one particularly good Human Interface design session, discussion turned to what we were going to call this — thing.
As I remember, Steve just started saying some names out loud — I suppose trying them out to see how they felt in his mouth and to his ears. Which is not as odd as it seemed then — it’s a good technique now that I think about it.
I don’t recall all the names, but one that stands out is “Freedom.” Steve spent some time trying that one out on all of us. He may have liked it because it invoked positive imagery of people being set free. And, just as possible and positive, it spoke to our own freedom from Microsoft and Internet Explorer, the company and browser we depended on at the time.
So while “Freedom” was an interesting name, and certainly spoke to Apple’s mission with its as-of-yet unnamed browser, it didn’t stick. Various other names, including “iBrowse,” were thrown around, but eventually Safari took hold and became the name:
“What… is it?” I asked with my teeth nearly clenched.
“Safari,” Kurt whispered.
I didn’t say anything. But Kurt must have noticed that I was more relaxed. “Dazed” as he described it to me later. Probably a little stupider looking than usual, too.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I honestly didn’t know what to think. My mind was a blank because I just didn’t expect it. The name seemed to come out of nowhere. It sounded more foreign at that moment than its actual origin.
“It doesn’t suck,” I finally offered.
In retrospect, Melton does believe that “Safari” was a good name for the project. At the time, Apple’s choice of web browser was an incredibly important decision. As the web was rising in popularity, Microsoft was completely ignoring the Mac version of Internet Explorer. With the dilapidated version of IE, Apple’s Mac was quickly falling behind Windows, with its updated versions of Internet Explorer. Safari was designed, as the “Freedom” name implied, to help break Apple out of Microsoft’s grip in this regard.
Obviously, it worked: Apple’s Safari browser is actually one of the best. It helped pioneer and push WebKit, and (on the mobile side) continues to be the number one most-used browser.