Good, Meh, and Bad Names

“There are only two hard things in computer science: convincing your team you don’t need Kubernetes and naming things.”

In this post, I am going to be ranking various technologies or languages or whatever I feel like ranking by the most important metric there is. The one metric that has stood the test of centuries, the thing that matters more than cycle count, memory usage, memory safety, and developer efficiency combined. The one metric that has seen the fall of empires, the rise of sea levels, the undoing of Adam Sandler’s sanity. The one metric to rule them all. Names.

Materials

Good: Ruby. Pretty, translucent. I think of glimmering edges and the word “sparkling.”

Meh: Crystal. Someone took this challenge a little too literally methinks.

Meh: Chromium. Sleek, sure, but also chemical and boring. It’s good for a web browser, on one hand. On the other, it’s too many characters for my limited brain cells.

Bad: Rust, my boy. This was really dropping the ball. I mean, the first thing you want people to think of is some old, forgotten factory machine? It’s industrial, brutish, and dare I say downright unfashionable. Nothing “rust” conjures to the mind is pleasant. Least of all its (supposed) actual meaning: a fungus? Save the talk, Graydon, I don’t care that these particular fungi were resilient. They could survive Thanos and it’s still a bad name.

Bad: Perl. Apparently just “pearl” was already taken. I don’t like the way the R and the L blend together at the end: “earl.” It’s a little embarrassing. Not to mention it has five million different file endings and it took my boy Prolog’s, worst of all.

Animals

Good: Hadoop. It’s named after a founder’s son’s toy elephant. I will not be taking any further suggestions, comments, or critiques. A++

Good: Firefox. Fire is cool and foxes are cute so this one is already looking good. I don’t even care about the reason behind the name (although this comes up later in this post for those hunting for lore). It’s equally easy to design for with plenty of room for artistic license.

Meh: Pony. It’s a cute story but I’m not a huge fan of horses to be honest. I should look into Pony more. But for now it gets a meh.

Meh: Gopher (old Internet protocol). You know I love some spunk in my names. But a protocol isn’t where I want it (that costs extra)! Against something called “The Web,” is it really even a contest? “The Web” has a lot going for it that Gopher just doesn’t: a sense of grandiosity with “the,” a sense of optimistic ambition for a connected world (get it?), and hey speaking of sense, the name also makes it. What do gophers have to do with retrieving documents? I think most people associate them with unsolicited holes in their yard.

Bad: GNU. Now let’s get one thing straight before the herd tramples me. “GNU is an acronym for ‘GNU’s Not Unix’!” Yes, but why the G? RMS could’ve picked any letter if that was the only requirement. It could’ve been “SNU: SNU’s Not Unix,” but it’s not. And why is it not? Because “gnu” is a real word and “it was fun to say.” (You’re definitely speaking for yourself there, Rich) And what’s a gnu? Well, it’s an animal, more commonly known as a wildebeest. So I think it’s fair to say that GNU was in fact, in some way, named after the wildebeest. -10 points just for me having to explain this long ass story and ruin the formatting on my blog. -100 points for just… being a really bad name. Hard to say, doesn’t mean anything, no one on planet Earth (this requirement excludes Stallman who’s clearly projected into Saturn) calls it a “gnu” instead of a wildebeest, plus I’m really sorry to say this, really my heart is overflowing but: wildebeests aren’t cute.

Acronyms

Good: ALGOL — Algorithmic/Algebraic Language. Sounds like a frog in the best way possible. Yet there is a certain majesty to it too. A majestic frog. I don’t even care about the G and the L being so close together and making an awkward “gull” sound because I feel like a frog when I say it.

Good: LISP — List Processor. Short, sweet, tells you what it’s about all in four letters. I get very purple energies from LISP. Bonus points for the fact that anyone with a lisp will say “lithp prothethor.”

Meh: FORTRAN — Formula Translator. It reminds me of Nascar or some race car. The name is undeniably a good fit however, so I’ll let it slide.

Meh: AWK — Aho, Weinberger, Kernighan. It’s a little awk that it also means “awkward” in teenspeak, but not a huge problem. It’s surprisingly easy to Google and cute that they put all their names together like that. It’s like a friendship bracelet and that deserves some recognition in today’s age.

Bad: APL — A Programming Language. Borderline rude for it to take such an iconic name for itself. At least it should stand for “Array Programming Language.” I might be able to be convinced to bump it up to “meh” if people pronounced it “apple,” but everyone I’ve heard has said /eɪ.pi.ɛl/ (ay-pee-ell) which is just awkward.

Feminine Names

I simply must draw attention to the fact that names in CS from actual human names are (almost) always female or feminine. I’m sure I’ll write about that later.

Good: Julia. This is a comforting name. The name of a girl with a good smile and good taste in food and clothes. I trust her.

Good: MySQL. Named after the creator’s daughter My. It’s good because it also works just as the pronoun “my” and makes you feel comfy.

Good: Debian. It’s a blend of a female name (Debra) and the male creator’s name, Ian. With that alone, it would be a meh. But the name itself just sounds so cool.

Meh: MariaDB. Same trick as “MySQL” and same guy too, but “Maria” isn’t a pronoun so I feel no ownership here. This isn’t my SQL, this is Maria’s!

Meh: (Apache) Cassandra. Too long. Greek myth programming cliche (looking at you Kubernetes). It’s a pretty name though.

Bad: (Microsoft) Cortana. Named after a character from the Halo games. Show me a real woman named “Cortana,” Microsoft. I dare you. And even if or when you do, I still won’t change my ranking because the name itself sucks! It sounds so futuristic it’s almost cold and unbelievable. If you want people to talk to an AI you forcibly embed on their computers, maybe at least pick a name that doesn’t feel like a robot forcibly embedded in a computer?

Fiction

Good: Mozilla. Comes from Godzilla. What’s not to love? Giant lizard? Check. Cool name? Check. Has a “z”? Check. It’s a home run baby!

Good: Kubernetes. Love it or hate it, this name has it all. Easily Googleable (or is that for different reasons? (puts on tin foil hat so Google can’t tell I’m thinking about soup)), meaningful name, unique, enterprise friendly. My only complaint is that it is probably hard to pronounce when you’re starting out, but maybe that’s secretly a pro? Quick, say “shibboleth,” I won’t judge, I promise.

Meh: Django. It has nothing to do with the project, might be hard to pronounce for some people, and isn’t particularly charming, but it gets bonus points because it does sound cool and at least it picked one of Tarantino’s better films.

Bad: Phoenix (web framework but also 10,000 other things). Scratch all other mentions of “cliche” off this list because THIS right here is the granddaddy cliche of them all. Listen, I get it. Phoenixes are cool. Fire is cool. Hell, birds are cool (now “hellbird” has a ring to it but I can’t imagine a manager signing off on using “hellbird” for a project). But this has truly been done so many times the name coming back is itself like the phoenix rising from the ashes after the last project that used it died. The fact that no big project of the countless that have tried has been able to Make It using this name should tell you something. (Lore: Firefox was originally called Phoenix and I like to believe that 80% of its success is due to that name change.)

Coder, writer, dreamer, memer, and former Webizen.