Email stands for electronic mail, as it was designed to duplicate standard mail. It is sometimes spelled "e-mail," but this usage has fallen out of favor in most style guides.

Early computer networks often implemented messaging systems to allow users to communicate with each other. The first message sent using the protocol modern email is based on a message sent in 1971 on ARPANET, which eventually evolved into the Internet. Its inventor was Ray Tomlin, who used "@" to determine the target computer for the message. He stated that he invented email "mostly because it seemed like a neat idea."