Meaning of the word commodore

Last Updated on April 9, 2017 by Dave Farquhar

Commodore was a high-flying 1980s computer company that imploded in the early 1990s. But the name is a bit curious. What is the meaning of the word commodore?

Commodore was a rank in the Navy. In other services, commodore would be the equivalent of a one-star general. A commodore is the rank above captain, but below the rank of rear admiral. The U.S. Navy no longer uses the rank of commodore, instead using the rank of rear admiral, lower half. In the U.S. Department of Defense pay grade system, commodore is an O-7. The NATO officer code is OF-6.

How did a computer company end up with the name of an obsolete naval rank? It’s curious.

Jack Tramiel said the Opel Commodore, a car, inspired the name. His son, Leonard, says that’s impossible. Tramiel founded Commodore as a typewriter repair business in 1955. The Opel Commodore came out in 1967.

The other story is that Tramiel wanted a military-sounding name. But the names general and admiral were taken. Commodore is a logical progression from those names for someone with a military background. Tramiel knew military ranks because he learned to repair typewriters in the U.S. army.

Through the years the name Commodore had other uses. The funk/soul band The Commodores come to mind. The Commodores had a number of hits in the 1970s but remain active today. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s nickname was Commodore Vanderbilt because he owned so many ferries. And of course, General Motors built cars in a couple of different countries by that name.

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