LISP takes its name from "LISt Processing." The earliest computing applications (think of naval artillery ballistics calculations) were concerned with elementary operations on numbers. In an effort to get computers involved in the higher levels of mathematics (think calculus), programmers started modeling equations and other algebraic concepts as lists of symbols. The idea that a computer could process a list of symbols, at the time, was revolutionary.
Nowadays, in Java, we write code like this without a second thought:
List<String> symbols = new LinkedList<String>(); symbols.add("x"); symbols.add("="); symbols.add("y");
Aside: Many programming language names come from rather unexciting acronyms. Perl, a language historically associated with text processing applications, is named the "Practical Extraction and Reporting Language" while PHP, a language oft used in web development (now famously to build Facebook) was originally named for the "Personal Home Page" but was retroactively changed to "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor." Java is not named for an acronym but was originally called Oak because there was an oak tree outside the creator's office. The name was later changed to avoid copyright issues.
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