So, a while back, an employee came into IT Support with two external hard drives because they needed help copying some data across. She started telling us that she wanted this and that “copied onto Betsy,” and she needed “Oscar reformatted to work with Mac”. After a few moments, we realised that she was referring to her hard drives by name, as if they were people. Mr Chief and the Professor both thought it was quite strange and funny, but I kind of thought it was totally reasonable. And this got me thinking about what people name their devices and why.
As far as I’ve been able to work out, there seems to be five different types of names people can give a new device or storage media when they get it. In fact, these habits are quite similar to the attitude people take to naming Pokemon.
You can have:
- Human names, which anthropomorphise the device (or Pokemon), e.g. Gwen,
- Pet names, which can be anything from a random adjective to a bunch of gibberish, e.g. Bluey,
- Possessive names, which say what and whose it is, e.g. Matt’s USB,
- Meaningful names, which just say what it is or does , e.g. NAS, and
- Symbolic names, which indirectly refer to some aspect of the device, e.g. TARDIS.
Depending on the exact choice, there is often some overlap between categories of names, but no name I can think of falls outside of all these categories.
In truth, it’s a fairly common practice to name inanimate objects. For example, most people have a name for their car, especially their first car. It seems to just be part of human nature to want to give everything a name. These devices, computers, servers and storage media all demand a name at some stage or another, so you really don’t have much choice but to give them one.
In some cases, it makes more sense to give particular devices one sort of a name over another. Any device that only serves one purpose people will often name after, or give a name based around that purpose. This would classify as a meaningful or symbolic name. Servers are usually named this way as it is important to know which one you are referring to and its purpose at a glance. At the House, they follow this sort of convention, where the file server is named “file1”. This is handy because if they ever get another file server, they can name it “file2” and always know exactly which one you’re referring to. If a PC is only going to serve a single purpose, it can be named in this way too, but this usually isn’t the case. However, just because it serves a purpose and you’re trying to convey that in the name, doesn’t mean the name has to be boring. Instead of just naming the dedicated disc burning machine “disc-burner” or something, Mr Chief named it “Burnie” which would classify as a pet name, and a symbolic name as it refers to the PC’s purpose, but in a quirky way.
Personally, I’m big on naming storage media. Whenever I get a new USB or SD card, I usually give it a unusual name. That way, even though it doesn’t explicitly say what the item’s purpose or size is, I know from its name because it’s so unique. It started a while back when I had to reformat the micro SD card for my MP3 player. In reformatting it, it prompted me for a name, and I couldn’t just let it be. I punched a few random letters on the keyboard, and made a word out of it. The result was “Banara” which is the name I still use for the new SD card in my player, so that whenever I see it in My Computer, I know which one it is and that it’ll be full of music. In the case of one of my USBs, I simply named it the brand name, “Lexar”, backwards, giving me “Raxell”. I guess these names fall under the category of pet names. My main everyday USB, however, doesn’t have a name because it can’t due to the presence of a folder in the root called “autorun.inf”, to stop it being infected by any autorun viruses (a lesson I learnt the hard way early in high school).
Some people find this whole concept of putting in any effort to name a device or storage media ridiculous. These people are the ones who will usually opt for the most direct, overt and bland meaningful names, or possessive names. These are the people who just choose the default options of “Justine’s iPad” , “Sandisk” or “Totodile“. Either that, or they may change them to “32GB iPad”, “Drake’s 256MB USB” or “Blue Crocodile”. I can understand their lack of engagement. To name a device is to create a sort of bond with it, as if it were alive. Many people don’t want anything like that, because they don’t care for their devices in that sort of way, or on that sort of level. It’s just a thing to them, a tool for a use. So that means if you are the type of person that names their device, you’re usually much more emotionally connected and attached to it. As a tech-head, I think that’s a good thing, but many, many people would disagree with me.
The other bad thing about naming devices it that it can often take quite a while to come up with a good name; one that you’re comfortable with and can stick with, because often they can be a bit of a pain to change. This is exemplified in XKCD’s comic Permanence. I know when we set up our new NAS at home, I spent over a week trying to come up with the perfect name. The previous NAS had a name I was really proud of, so it made it even more difficult to come up with a replacement. The old NAS had been called Blonkbox because it was white (blanc is French for white), and blonk rhymed with plonk which is what you do with all your data; plonk it onto the NAS. I eventually came up with a name I was happy with. Some people avoid this kind of problem by following a themed naming scheme. There’s even a website devoted to collating lists of names you can use!
Looking at it, giving devices human names is the hardest to understand. What causes someone to connect their hard drive with “Betsy” or “Oscar”? There are only two ways I’ve been able to come up with. You know how sometimes when someone tells you their name, or a friend points to someone and tells you their name, you think to yourself “That guy does not look like a Kevin” or ” Yeah, that girl really acts like a Krystal”? It ‘s this sort of association between names and particular qualities that someone could use to attach a name to a device. Some pet names work this way too. The other way someone could choose a human name for a device is if it was directly named after someone. Depending on the choice, this may also be a symbolic name. For example, if you named your Lexar Firefly (that’s the model of USB drive) “Reynolds”, that’d be symbolic ( If you didn’t get that, go watch Joss Whedon’s Firefly).
In the end, it doesn’t matter too much how or why you name your devices, as long as it works for you (and those who have to deal with it).
So, what did you think of all that? Do you name your devices? What kind of names do you give them? Have given you any new ideas? As always, if you have something to say, like a suggested blog topic, feel free to tell me in the comments below, or on the Facebook fan page.
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