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Aug. 6, 2014

By Jim Brady

From the moment I started thinking about launching amobile-first news platform in Philadelphia, I wanted it to be a true community effort, one where participation and feedback from consumers would not be a sideshow, but central to its continued development. Turns out we didn’t even need to launch before fulfilling that promise.

A few months ago, we chose the working name “brother.ly” for this project. We liked it, but wanted to get the name out there to see whether others did. And while the name generally received positive reaction, we heard a lot of negative reaction from one key constituency: Philadelphians. We heard it when talking to job candidates; we heard it when we spoke with Philly’s online journalism community at the Pen & Pencil last month.

One complaint was that the name had a male connotation. Some people asked whether the site was going to be only for “bros,” and whether it would cover women as well. Honestly, we didn’t worry too much about that. TheGreek translationof “Philadelphia” is “brotherly love,” so that concern seemed overcomable.

But the other concern about the name bothered me a lot: that”brother.ly” worked better for people who weren’t from Philadelphia. Indeed, most of the positive social media reaction came largely from non-Philadelphians. As one friend put it to this native New Yorker, it would be like calling a site designed for my hometown “BigApple.com.”  While many people know New York as “the Big Apple,” it is more a phrase used by tourists than true New Yorkers.

So we decided that we needed another name, one that would provoke the opposite reaction to “brother.ly.” We wanted an insider-y word, name or phrase that would mean something to Philadelphians, even if it meant little to those outside. So, without further ado, I’m happy to announce that the new name of our Philadelphia project is …Billy Penn.

If you’re shaking your head in confusion, you’re probably not a Philadelphian. For enlightenment, look no further than the top of Philadelphia’s City Hall, a beautiful French Second Empire structure topped by a statue of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. In town, he’s affectionately known as “Billy Penn.”

Those of you who know the term “Billy Penn” probably know it for the so-called “Curse of Billy Penn.” Until 1987, a gentleman’s agreement kept no building in Philadelphia taller than the top of City Hall, which meant Billy Penn literally stood above Philadelphia. But, that year,One Liberty Place broke that agreement, soon followed by many other skyscrapers that fundamentally changed the city’s skyline. And once Billy Penn got demoted, Philadelphia’s sports teams went into a championship drought.

So when the skyline-topping Comcast Center was built in 2007, a few ironworkers decided to affix a small figurine of William Penn to the highest beam, restoring Billy to his rightful place above the city. The following year, the Phillies won the World Series. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way, that’s exactly the kind of great local story that we wanted to capture with our new name. All we ask is that you don’t blame us for any potential subsequent Philadelphia sports droughts.

We’re now live at billypenn.comif you’re interested in signing up to get more information as we progress toward a fall launch. If you previously signed up at brother.ly, don’t worry, you’re still on our list.

Beth Davidz is the Product Director of Billy Penn. She's a media technologist with a background in journalism, design and dev. She has more than a decade of experience working at companies including AOL,...