If you are a startup, and money is tight, you need to find another incentive to give your employees. Giving equity is expensive. Making them feel good for a low cost is very important, because you are competing with all the established businesses that can hire them.
By giving a "cool" job title, you give a person the sense that it is a fun place to work and that you value them enough to put the needed thought into their job title. You can either go with vice president for PHP development or PHP Guru. Since programmers usually look for the fun title rather then the more professional career related title, it is more common, but both are used in the industry. Since this is probably the cheapest way to compensate your employees, it makes sense it would be a common practice.