Why is A Computer Mouse Called A Mouse?

There are many stories regarding how the computer mouse was invented, how it got its name and who named it. The interesting part is that trackballs and light pens were quite common before the inception of the mouse. Today, we use the mouse but we never bother finding out how it got its name. In this article, you will find out the reasons and history behind naming this pointing device the ‘mouse’.

Why is A Computer Mouse Called A Mouse?

Douglas Engelbart conceived the idea when he was delivering a lecture at a conference in 1961. He was thinking about an engineering tool which was used to measure distance, called the Plannimeter. From there on, he started to work on a device that would help in indicating X and Y coordinates on a screen. The original name of the patent for a computer mouse was the ‘X-Y position indicator’ for a display system. It was part of a huge project which focused on using a pointing device for a graphical input.

Who Named the Mouse and Why?

Photo Credit: canida

The name “mouse” was decided at the Stanford Research Institute, mainly due to its resemblance with the furry rodent. The early models

looked similar to the mouse and have the cord attached to the back like a mouse-tail. When the mouse was invented in the lab, researchers started calling it a mouse and it got its name from there.

In an interview for the SuperKids website, Douglas Engelbart said, “No one can remember. It just looked like a mouse with a tail, and we all called it that.” The mouse cord was interfering with the wrist of the user and hampering the usability of the device. Due to this, the cord was removed from the back of the mouse and placed on the front of the mouse.


engelbart-and-the-computer-mouseDouglas Engelbart invented the mouse in 1964 at the Stanford Research Institute after extensive usability testing. The team working on the first mouse called it a “bug”. It was one of experimental pointing-devices developed for oN-Line System (NLS). Other experimental designs focusing on detecting body movements were also developed but none of them made an impact like the mouse did.

A couple of years later, engineers at a German company, Telefunken, also developed a similar device but the main difference was that the German version of the mouse used a rolling ball instead of mechanical wheels. It was similar to a trackball in appearance with a rolling ball on top. Later, the team turned the design upside down and made a mouse out of it.

Eight years after the inception of the first mouse, Douglas Engelbart teamed up with his colleague Bill English and invented the first ball mouse. There are many devices which failed to take off and died in the laboratories but the mouse went on to make history. The next big leap came in 1980, when the first optical mouse came into being. The optical mouse went mainstream with the passage of time and gradually replaced the ball mouse.

Today, the computer mouse comes in many different shapes and sizes. There are wireless and wired mouse available. Different connectors are used for wired mice and the wireless mouse uses different technologies. Most mice have a wheel for scrolling. You can also categorize mouse based on buttons. Nowadays, unique computer mice are developed to cater to a niche market, such as a gaming mouse for gamers, a 3D mouse for graphic designers and a foot mouse for the disabled.

After going through many evolutionary phases, the mouse has become the most popular input device in the world. You cannot imagine using a computer without a mouse. That says a lot about the importance of the mouse as a pointing input device. Although the touch input has reduced its importance somewhat, it still dominates the desktop market.