TikTok Logo.

TikTok has catapulted to the top of the social media world in a short time. People love easily digestible videos and the algorithm learns your taste quickly. “TikTok” is a household name now, but where did that name come from?

Musical.ly and TikTok

TikTok’s history—especially in the U.S.—is a little misunderstood. It’s commonly thought that “TikTok” was a rebrand of the Musical.ly app. That’s sorta true, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

The Musical.ly app was released in the U.S. back in 2014. It was created for people to make short 15-second to 1-minute lip-sync and dancing videos. Musical.ly slowly gained users until it skyrocketed in popularity in 2016 and 2017.

Musical.ly logo.

Meanwhile, a Chinese tech company named ByteDance launched TikTok in China in 2016. The app arrived in the U.S. in 2017. Around this same time, ByteDance acquired Musical.ly for $1 billion. The two apps remained separate until they were merged in 2018.

So it’s true that Musical.ly essentially became TikTok, but the two actually existed separately for a while. TikTok is not simply a rebranded version of Musical.ly.

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What About That Name?

TikTok logos.

When we talk about TikTok, there are actually two names to think about. The Chinese name is “Douyin,” which translates to “shaking sound.” When launching the app in other countries, ByteDance chose a different name.

There doesn’t seem to be an official source on the meaning of the “TikTok” name, but it is said to represent the short, snappy videos on the platform. A reference to the tick-tocking sound of the second hand on a clock.

The TikTok logo appears to be a music note, but it’s actually a stylized lowercase “d,” a reference to the Chinese name of the app. Surprisingly, the logo hasn’t really changed much over time: The resemblance to a music note is a nice coincidental nod to Musical.ly.

That’s the story behind TikTok and its unusual name. The app has become so popular that other social media sites have tried to copy it, but they can’t hold a candle to that “TikTok” name. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Ke$ha’s catchy song.

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Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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