A fly named for Bill Gates and 9 other unusual honors for tech’s elite

Over the years, these stars of technology have been showered with honors, some of which are a little odder than others.

A handwritten sign that says Good Job!

Aside from fame and, sometimes, great fortune, stars of the technology world are often rewarded and recognized for their work in fairly standard ways: Through the granting of honorary degrees, the awarding of medals, the granting of memberships in halls of fame, and the inclusion on lists of the most influential people in their field or the world. However, once in a while, these innovators and visionaries are honored in less traditional, sometimes downright odd, ways. But having an asteroid, a street, or a species of fly named in one’s honor might actually turn out, ultimately, to be a longer-lasting way to commemorate a person of great achievement.

Use the arrows above to learn about unusual honors given to ten famous people from the tech world. If know you of other odd ways that tech’s elite, or their work, have been honored over the years, please share in the comments.

See also:

Don’t call it Linux! And other things that tick off Richard Stallman

Superclass: 14 of the world’s best living programmers

11 technologies that tick off Linus Torvalds

Don’t be duped: Beware of these Twitter parody accounts

The oil tanker David Packard

David Packard’s oil tanker

Traditional honors: David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard who also had the foresight to register one of the first 10 Internet domain names (HP.com) was honored (often along with partner William Hewlett) in many ways during long and distinguished career, including being awarded an IEEE Founders Medal in 1973, the National Medal of Technology in 1988, and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievment Award in 1995.

Unusual honors: While Packard’s former home in Palo Alto, California where he and Hewlett formed their company in the garage is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, perhaps the most unusual honor bestowed on Packard was when Chevron named a 400,000 ton oil tanker the David Packard in 1977.

Graphic showing the orbit the asteroid 9882 Stallman

Asteroid 9882 Stallman

Traditional honors: Richard Stallman, the creator of GNU Emacs, the GNU Compiler Collection, and the GNU General Public License, has been recognized his technical accomplishments as well as for his activism in the service of free software, having received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1990, the ACM’s Grace Murray Hopper Award that same year, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1998.

Unusual honors: As Stallman is fond of pointing out, the operating system that many simply call Linux, is really a combination of GNU tools and the Linux kernel, and hence should really be called GNU/Linux. It was appropriate, then, in 1992 that GNU, like Linux, had an asteroid named after it, 9965 GNU, by Spacewatch, users of the GNU/Linux operating system. In 1994, an asteroid was named after Stallman himself, 9882 Stallman.

The USS Hopper

USS Hopper

Traditional honors: Grace Hopper, the inventor of the first computer language compiler, the co-creator of COBOL, and the coiner of the term “software bug,” has been recognized over the years for her enormous contributions to computer science and her service in the U.S. Navy. Recognition of her work includes being awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal upon her retirement from the navy in 1986, being awarded the National Medal of Technology  in 1991, and having the Government Technology Leadership Award renamed in her honor as The Gracie in 2001

Unusual honors: Read Admiral Hopper has been honored in almost as many non-traditional ways, including being interviewed by David Letterman in 1986, having a park in Arlington, Virginia named after her, and being the subject a Google Doodle in 2013. However, none of these honors can match (in terms of firepower, at least) the U.S. Navy’s guided missile destroyer that was named after her in 1996, the USS Hopper, only the second navy ship to be named after a woman who served in the navy.

The Eristalis gatesi fly

Eristalis gatesi

Traditional honors: Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder and former CEO, and noted philanthropist, has been honored for the impact his company and charitable work have had on the world, such as being named a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1994, being chosen as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century by Time, and being made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005. Gates is also currently ranked as the seventh most powerful person in the world by Forbes.

Unusual honor: In 1997, entomologist F. Christian Thompson named a pair of newly discovered species of flower flies after Gates and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in honor of their work to bring “power to the people through computer software.” The flies, named Eristalis gatesi and Eristalis alleni, respectively, are only found in high forests of Costa Rica.

A picture of asteroid 22 Kalliope and its moon Kalliope I Linus

Kalliope I Linus

Traditional honors: Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel and the Git revision control system, has been the recipient of many significant awards and honors including the EFF Pioneer Award in 1998, the Lovelace Medal in 2000, and the IEEE Computer Society's Computer Pioneer Award in 2014. He was also named one of the most influential people in the world in 2004 by Time and  elected to the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.

Unusual honors: As of today, not one, not two, but three celestial bodies have been named, at least in part, in Torvalds’ honor or in honor of his work. In 1994, asteroid 9885 Linux was discovered and named by Spacewatch, followed two years later by asteroid 9793 Torvalds. In 2001, astronomers Jean-Luc Margot and Michael E. Brown discovered a small moon orbiting the asteroid 22 Kalliope and they chose to name it Kalliope I Linus, after Linus, the mythical son of Kalliope, Linus van Pelt of Peanuts cartoon fame, and Linus Torvalds. 

A Woz Way street sign

Woz Way

Traditional honors: Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, who designed and hand-assembled the original Apple I computers and created Integer BASIC, was awarded the ACM’s Grace Murray Hopper Award in 1979, the National Medal of Technology (along with Steve Jobs) in 1985, and the IEEE’s Hoover Medal in 2014.

Unusual honors: The Woz, as Wozniak is known, has been honored in less traditional ways, such as participating in Dancing with the Stars in 2009 and being a guest star on The Big Bang Theory in 2010. However, having a street named after you is probably a longer-lasting tribute, which happened when San Jose renamed the street in front of the Children’s Discovery Museum to Woz Way, in honor of his charitable donations to the museum.

An Emmy award

Emmy Award winner John Carmack

Traditional honors: John Carmack, the co-founder of id Software, creator of influential FPS games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, and pioneer of such ground-breaking computer graphic techniques as adaptive tile refresh, binary space partitioning, and surface caching has received a host of traditional honors which include being inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2001, being added to the Walk of Game in 2006, and being given a lifetime achievement award by the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2010.

Unusual honor: When you think of awards given to programmers, one that probably doesn’t come to mind is an Emmy award, but Carmack, and id Software, have won two, albeit in the Engineering & Technology category. In 2007, Carmack and id won an Emmy for the development of 3D software engines and the following year id won again, this time for the user modifiability in Quake.

The Olympics say “Thanks, Tim”

Traditional honors: Tim Berners-Lee, the man who came up with the concept of the World Wide Web in 1989, created the first web web site, and currently heads the World Wide Web Consortium, has been honored many times over, including being named one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century by Time, was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004, and named one of the world’s two top living geniuses by The Telegraph in 2007.

Unusual honor: In 2012, Berners-Lee was the recipient of a most unusual honor for a techie when he was featured during the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games. During the ceremonies, Berners-Lee live tweeted using a NeXT computer, the same type of machine that he used to serve the world’s first web site in 1991.

The Disney Legends statue at Walt Disney Studios

Steve Jobs: Disney Legend

Traditional honors: Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and chief visionary, was often recognized during his lifetime for his many contributions to technology and popular culture, such as sharing the National Medal of Technology with Steve Wozniak in 1985, being named the Entrepreneur of the Decade in 1989 by Inc., and being named by Fortune as the most powerful person in business in 2007.

Unusual honor: More than three years after his death, Jobs has continued to be recognized, including being named a Disney Legend posthumously in 2013, relating to his work as Pixar’s CEO and a Disney board member.

The Musk Who Fell to Earth

Traditional honors: Elon Musk, the founder or co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, has been honored for his wide range of tech accomplishments, including being named Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Year for 2007, being named by Esquire in 2008 as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century, and being awarded the Gold Space Medal in 2010 by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Unusual honor: In 2015, Musk received what may be the highest (unofficial) award that popular culture can bestow these days, by starring as himself in an episode of The Simpsons, titled The Musk Who Fell to Earth.