To learn more about this issue, you can also read our page on Linux and the GNU Project, our page on Why GNU/Linux? and our page on GNU Users Who Have Never Heard of GNU.
When people see that we use and recommend the name GNU/Linux for a system that many others call just “Linux”, they ask many questions. Here are common questions, and our answers.
See Linux and the GNU System and GNU Users Who Have Never Heard of GNU for more explanation, and The GNU Project for the history.
Calling the system GNU/Linux recognizes the role that our idealism played in building our community, and helps the public recognize the practical importance of these ideals.
The people who combined Linux with the GNU system were not aware that that's what their activity amounted to. They focused their attention on the piece that was Linux and did not realize that more of the combination was GNU. They started calling it “Linux” even though that name did not fit what they had. It took a few years for us to realize what a problem this was and ask people to correct the practice. By that time, the confusion had a big head start.
Most of the people who call the system “Linux” have never heard why that's not the right thing. They saw others using that name and assume it must be right. The name “Linux” also spreads a false picture of the system's origin, because people tend to suppose that the system's history was such as to fit that name. For instance, they often believe its development was started by Linus Torvalds in 1991. This false picture tends to reinforce the idea that the system should be called “Linux”.