How Instagram's Filters Got Their Names

Eric Ray Davidson
Kevin Systrom

CEO Kevin Systrom explains how his appreciation for cocktails inspired one name, while the company's San Francisco roots prompted the naming of another.

When Instagram first launched in 2010, it set itself apart from other photo-sharing apps with its signature square photos and range of custom filters. Back then, the iPhone 4 was considered state-of-the-art and it wasn’t necessarily easy to take good-looking photos on a cellphone. But filters gave everyone the tools to turn their photos into professional-looking posts. Looking back, Systrom calls Instagram’s combination of filters and social distribution “the magical combination” that helped the app take off.

Instagram’s filters have become so popular that even lesser-used filters have devoted followings. In THR’s cover story, Systrom says that users became angry when he decided to discontinue the Gotham filter, which was the company’s least-used filter at the time. “I remember walking down the street in San Francisco and people being like, ‘Bring back Gotham.’” Filters have also caused a rise in new (and sometimes unusual) baby names. A report published by Baby Center last year revealed that Instagram-inspired names like Juno, Reyes, Valencia and Willow are all on the rise. The name Ludwig, for instance, is up 42 percent on the website’s list of boy names. Juno, meanwhile, is 30 percent more popular for girls. Systrom jokes that he feels bad for anyone named after Instagram’s original filter, X-Pro II. “I’m feeling responsible for the poor kid’s high school experience.”

Today, Instagram has 23 filters, which Systrom says receive their classic names — like Willow and Inkwell — based on a company voting process. But in the early days, Systrom would create and name all the filters based on “random associations.” He tested out X-Pro II on the first-ever Instagram photo during a vacation with his now wife in Mexico. Many of them are named for places or things that had special meaning to Systrom and his co-founder, Mike Krieger.


A photo posted by Kevin Systrom (@kevin) on

Here’s Systrom on the meaning behind some of the early filters:

Hefe — Says Systrom: “I think I was at a bar with a friend, working on the filter and I was drinking a Hefeweizen.”

Amaro – “It’s a type of Italian liquor, and my co-founder and I were really into cocktails at that time," he explains. “There were all these speakeasies that were opening. So we named it Amaro.”

Brandon – Before Instagram sold to Facebook in 2012, it was headquartered in San Francisco. Brandon was the name of the street their office was on.

Valencia – Systrom says its named after Valencia Street, which runs through the heart of San Francisco's Mission District.  

Clarendon – Named for the Clarendon Heights neighborhood south of Golden Gate Park where Systrom says he and his wife, clean energy investor Nicole, walk their dog Dolly, who is quite famous in her own right, with 19,000 Instagram followers.