Ever since its early days, there’s confusion over how to pronounce SQL. If you’ve ever worked in a large team of SQL developers, you might’ve heard some developers pronouncing it as “S-Q-L” or “ess-que-ell” [ ˈɛs kjuː ˈɛl ] and others using “sequel” [ ˈsiːkwəl ].

And the confusion extends itself to commercial and open source products too. Any mispronunciation will extend itself to products such as SQL Server and MySQL, not to mention product tools and features such as MySQL Workbench, mysqladmin, mysqldump, and Access’s SQL view, to name a few.

The Case for “S-Q-L” (or “Ess-que-ell”)

SQL is an acronym for Structured Query Language, so it makes sense that it would be pronounced by spelling out the three letters individually. So therefore, SQL would be pronounced as “ess-que-ell”.

This seems to be a no-brainer.

And the ISO/IEC standard also uses the “S-Q-L” pronunciation (for example, “…an SQL-implementation” as opposed to “…a SQL-implementation”).

Also, from the MySQL website:

The official way to pronounce “MySQL” is “My Ess Que Ell” (not “my sequel”), but we do not mind if you pronounce it as “my sequel” or in some other localized way.

So why do some people pronounce it as “sequel”?

The Case for “Sequel”

As it turns out, when SQL was first developed back in 1974, it was proposed under the name SEQUEL.

SEQUEL, which stands for Structured English QUEry Language, was proposed in a research paper called “SEQUEL: A STRUCTURED ENGLISH QUERY LANGUAGE” [pdf].

In the paper, SEQUEL was being proposed as a more user-friendly alternative to the SQUARE (Specifying Queries As Relational Expressions) language.

So it was this spelling/pronunciation that was used from the start. It wasn’t until later that its name was changed to SQL. This was reportedly due to a trademark conflict with the Hawker Siddeley aircraft company.

So it would seem that the “Sequel” pronunciation is simply paying homage to SQL’s humble beginnings.

The Verdict?

OK let’s hand it over to Bill Gates for the final verdict. Does he use “S-Q-L” or “sequel”?

Or does he use both…