What Does the Name “Y Combinator” Mean? How Do You Pronounce It?

If you follow the tech startup world, you’ve no doubt heard of Y Combinator (“YC” for short.) YC is probably the single most popular early-stage startup funding program. The question is…what does the name mean? How do you pronounce it?

What Is Y Combinator?

To understand the name, it helps to first understand exactly what Y Combinator does. In short, YC invests a small amount of money into newer, early-stage startup companies. Startups apply to the program, which is extremely competitive. If accepted, the startups receive roughly $120,000 in funding and are required to move to Silicon Valley for 3 months.

Once in Silicon Valley, the startups work with Y Combinator’s team to further develop their idea and practice their pitch to investors. At the end of the 3 months, each startup team presents their idea at a large event known as “Demo Day.” Demo Day is one of the most exclusive startup events in Silicon Valley (and the world) and the investors are hand-picked by Y Combinator.

YC Talk

After the 3 months are over, the startup teams remain in touch with other startups that previously went through the program, as well as the Y Combinator staff themselves. This alumni network helps the new startups for years to come.

You’ve probably heard of many of the companies that have passed through Y Combinator, which include Stripe, Dropbox, Reddit, and AirBnb.



What Does the Name Mean?

Now that you know what YC is, let’s talk about what the name means. As it was founded by (and currently run by) software developers, it’s not surprising that YC’s name has a programming origin. The term y combinator refers to a specific concept used in computer science. YC’s website explains:

Why did you choose the name “Y Combinator?”
The Y combinator is one of the coolest ideas in computer science. It’s also a metaphor for what we do. It’s a program that runs programs; we’re a company that helps start companies.

Source: Y Combinator

Y Combinator

Read more about the mathematical concept of a y combinator.

How Do You Pronounce Y Combinator?

Finally, let’s talk about the pronunciation. The first letter Y is pronounced the same as the letter Y. It is a homophone of the word why. Combinator is more difficult, as it is not a commonly-used English word.

Combinator is similar to the word combination but has the suffix -or rather than -ion. Both words are derived from the root verb, to combine, which means to join together to make a single thing or group.

The IPA phonetical transcription of the entire name is waɪ ˌkɑmbəˈneɪ tɔr.

Luckily, Y Combinator is almost always referred to by its initials, YC. This abbreviation is pronounced simply as Y-C, or waɪ si in IPA.

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