On Naming Computers

October 20, 2009

In Nerd Angst I mentioned briefly that I need to think up a suitable name for the new laptop due to arrive sometime Friday. Being a nerd through-and-through this is actually a more significant undertaking that you might otherwise suspect.

Until I got my PowerBook I had never named a computer. Upon seeing it and using it for the first time I immediately thought it should be called Eeyore. The Winne-the-Pooh books are still among my favorites more than four decades after my parents first read them to me. I always identified with Eeyore, and while a sleek new Apple laptop is hardly a donkey with a tacked tail, the name fit.

With the beginnings of a theme at work here my subsequent computers and external hard drives have been named from the Winne-the-Pooh universe. I've got a USB key named Piglet, and two older machines called Kanga and Roo. The IBM ThinkPad I bought 4 years ago is called Tigger. For a time the iMac was called 100AcreWoods, but names that start with numbers don't always play well with others, so it was renamed Rivendell.

The problem with the Pooh universe is the rather limited number of character names. The Tolkien universe on the other hand is littered with names. Unfortunately many of them are hard to spell and harder still to pronounce. I actually use Tolkien names for my work supplied desktop and laptop, Palantir and Orthanc respectively. (Yes, it would make more sense to name the desktop tower after  the tower and the portable laptop after the far-seeing stone, but I wasn't thinking clearly when I choose the names. Renaming isn't easy as there are static IP addressing issues involved.)

I read once about using the Periodic Table of the Elements as computer names, and leveraging the atomic number as the final octet of the IP address. But that would mean moving away from DHCP assigned IP addressing on our home network, and renaming computers here to take full advantage of the system.

One former employer used rivers (e.g., Orinoco and Danube) for development servers and planets for production servers (e.g., Mars and Jupiter). My current employer uses Jedi character names from Wookiepedia for servers. Although they are moving away from that creative scheme and toward one like dev-ome-as1. Which is functional but not really what I'm looking for.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) uses Request for Comments (a form of memo) to capture ideas and standards. There is a RFC on computer names, that offers many guidelines but no real answers.

(Every time I mention guidelines I am reminded of the first Pirate movie, and the phrase, "Welcome to the Black Pearl." Hmmm....)

I've got until Friday to solve this mental exercise. Well, actually longer than that as the name doesn't have to be set immediately. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.