Phil Knight on the Surprising Origin Story of Nike’s Name and Swoosh

Would Nike still be Nike if it had been named Dimension Six?

Marker Editors
Published in
5 min readFeb 28, 2020


Detail of the Air Jordan Nike shoes worn by Michael Jordan during a game in Washington, D.C., in 1985. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: In this excerpt from his memoir Shoe Dog, the founder of Nike, Phil Knight, shares how Nike got its name and logo.

TThe year was 1971. My shoe company — at the time called Blue Ribbon — and Onitsuka, our longtime Japanese shoe supplier, were about to break up. I needed to find a replacement for Onitsuka.

I remembered a factory I’d heard about, in Guadalajara, the one where Adidas had manufactured shoes during the 1968 Olympics, allegedly to skirt Mexican tariffs. The shoes were good, as I recalled. So I set up a meeting with the factory managers.

Even though it was in central Mexico, the factory was called Canada. A factory south of the border named for a country north of the border. Oh well. I didn’t care. The factory was big, clean, well run. Plus, it was Adidas-endorsed. I told them I’d like to place an order. Three thousand pairs of leather soccer shoes, which I planned to sell as football shoes.

Now about that logo. My new soccer-qua-football shoe would need something to set it apart from the stripes of Adidas and Onitsuka. I recalled a young artist I’d met at Portland State, Carolyn Davidson. When I got back to Oregon, I invited her to the office and told her we needed a logo.

“What kind?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“That gives me a lot to go on,” she said.

“Something that evokes a sense of motion,” I said.

She looked confused. Of course she did, I was babbling. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t an artist. I showed her the soccer-football shoe and said, unhelpfully: “This. We need something for this.”

She said she’d give it a try.

“Motion,” she mumbled, leaving my office. “Motion.” A few weeks later, she came back with a portfolio of sketches.

I looked them over with my COO Bob Woodell and salesman and first full-time employee Jeff Johnson. Gradually we inched toward a consensus. We liked . . . this one . . . slightly more than the others.