From Twitter to X: Elon Musk begins erasing an iconic internet brand

For more than 10 years, Twitter has been recognizable for its blue and white bird logo, which became a symbol of the social network’s unique culture and lexicon. To “tweet” became a verb. A “tweet” referred to a post. “Tweeps” became the term for Twitter employees.

Late on Sunday, Elon Musk started getting rid of it all.

The tech billionaire, who bought Twitter last year, renamed the social platform on its website and began replacing the bird logo with a stylized version of the 24th letter of the Latin alphabet. Inside Twitter̵[ads1]7;s San Francisco headquarters, X logos were projected in the cafeteria, while conference rooms were renamed to words with X in them, including “eXposure,” “eXult” and “s3Xy,” according to images seen by The New York Times.

Mr. Musk had long said he might make the name change, but he accelerated the process in one chirping early Sunday morning when he declared that “soon we will say goodbye to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds.” He has said he hopes to turn Twitter into an “everything app” called X that will include not only social networking but also banking and shopping.

Early on Monday, Mr. Musk too shared a photo of a giant X projected onto Twitter’s office building in San Francisco with the caption: “Our headquarters tonight.”

The moves — which continue — are the most visible changes Mr. Musk has made at Twitter since he closed the deal to buy the company in October. Behind the scenes, he has taken many steps to overhaul the company, eliminating thousands of Twitter employees and changing features on the platform, including badges meant to verify users, as well as the rules governing what can and cannot be said on the service.

Still, the name and logo change was impossible to ignore. And by beginning to strip the Twitter name, Mr. Musk jettisoned an entrenched brand that had existed since 2006 — when the company was founded — and had delighted and frustrated celebrities, politicians, athletes and other users in equal measure. Twitter introduced its blue bird mascot in 2010 and updated it two years later.

Many Twitter users, who have spent years tweeting and building their presence on the site, seemed alienated by the shift. “Has everyone seen the (eXecrable) new logo?” actor Mark Hamill tweeted on Monday, with the hashtag #ByeByeBirdie. Others saw the move as Mr. Musk’s final blow to the site, and some stubbornly said they would still call the site Twitter and would continue to “tweet.”

When brands become verbs, it’s the “holy grail,” said Mike Proulx, a vice president and director of research at Forrester, because it means they’ve become part of popular culture.

“The app itself has become a cultural phenomenon in every possible way,” he said. “In one fell swoop, Elon Musk has essentially wiped out 15 years of brand value from Twitter and is now essentially starting from scratch.”

Mr. Musk risked the wrath of Twitter users, though he cannot afford to upset them. His company is facing financial difficulties and increased competition, with rival Meta launching an app this month for real-time public conversations called Threads. The new app quickly gained 100 million downloads in less than a week, although the use of the app is under scrutiny.

Mike Carr, one of the founders of the branding company NameStormers, said Mr. Musk’s X logo could be interpreted as having an ominous “Big Brother” tech overlord vibe. Unlike the blue bird, which he described as warm and cuddly but perhaps a little dated and weighed down by bad press, the new logo was “very tough,” he said.

Still, it conjured phrases like “X marks the spot” and could help Mr. Musk separate the platform from the Twitter baggage, Carr said.

“If they do this wrong and it was someone other than Elon Musk, he would run a higher risk because people could start making fun of it,” said Mr. Carr, who has helped name thousands of clients, including CarMax, the used car company.

Mr. Musk has long been interested in the X name. In 1999, he helped found, an online bank. The company changed its name after it merged with another startup to form what would become online payments company PayPal.

In 2017, Mr. Musk said he bought back the domain from PayPal. “No plans right now, but it has great sentimental value to me,” he tweeted at the time.

Tesla, Mr. Musk’s electric car maker, also has a sports car called the Model X. One of Mr. Musk’s sons, X Æ A-12 Musk, is often called “X” for short. The holding companies created to complete the acquisition of Twitter were called X Holdings. Mr. Musk also heads an artificial intelligence company called xAI.

“I like the letter X,” he posted on Sunday.

Mr. Musk has shown disdain for Twitter’s past corporate culture. He has taken issue with the number of bird references in the company’s internal team names and products. At one point, he changed the name of a crowdsourced fact-checking feature to “Community Notes” from “Birdwatch.” He also recently had someone cover the “w” in Twitter’s name at its San Francisco headquarters.

Among those who didn’t seem bothered by the change was Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder and former CEO. He said in a tweet on Monday that while a rebrand was not “essential” to achieving Mr. Musk’s vision, there was an argument for it.

“The Twitter brand has a lot of baggage,” Mr. Dorsey wrote. “But all that matters is the utility it provides, not the name.”

Martin Grasser, a San Francisco-based artist who was part of a team in 2011, who helped design the latest Twitter bird logo, said it was meant to convey “simplicity, brevity and clarity.” The goal was to have a logo that was as memorable as Apple’s or Nike’s, he said.

Mr. Grasser said Mr. Musk could do whatever he wanted with the brand, but “I hope the bird occupies a place in the culture that is a happy memory or becomes one of those logos that belongs to the culture instead of a company.”

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