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The GNU kernel was not originally supposed to be called the HURD. Its original name was Alix -- named after the woman who was my sweetheart at the time. She, a Unix system administrator, had pointed out how her name would fit a common naming pattern for Unix system versions; as a joke, she told her friends, ``Someone should name a kernel after me.'' I said nothing, but decided to surprise her with a kernel named Alix.
It did not stay that way. Michael Bushnell (now Thomas), the main developer of the kernel, preferred the name HURD, and redefined Alix to refer to a certain part of the kernel -- the part that would trap system calls and handle them by sending messages to HURD servers.
Ultimately, Alix and I broke up, and she changed her name; independently, the HURD design was changed so that the C library would send messages directly to servers, and this made the Alix component disappear from the design.
But before these things happened, a friend of hers came across the name Alix in the HURD source code, and mentioned the name to her. So the name did its job.