Naming the Future

Well, the site renovations seem pretty much in hand — things are basically working (though you should let me know if you find something that isn’t), and the redirects and 404s are doing their respective jobs.

So, given that, like George, I’ve got a big list of stuff to do this summer, it’s back to work for me.

One such project, which I imagine will take some time, is the start-up of the new online scholarly imprint I’ve been talking about here for a while now. And the two initial tasks in that start-up, I think, are naming an editorial board, and naming the thing itself.

I’ve decided that, while MediaCommons and MediaTexts have much to recommend them, neither quite does what I’m hoping for; each is, in a weird way, too specific. As I’m hoping that the new thing will evolve into something as-yet unimaginable, I don’t want to saddle it with a name that seems to rein in its future, circumscribing its range.

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks contemplating names, and particularly software names, trying to figure out why I like the ones I like, and why the others leave me cold. After a fair bit of thought, I’ve determined that my favorite such name remains Eudora, which has both an admirable simplicity and a impressive depth of reference, and which has in some mysterious way passed into the computing vernacular, seeming as obvious a choice as “Mail.” (No offense, Steve.) That’s the kind of name I want — something evocative and non-literal but simple. (And something for which the domain is available.)

It may be that I’m too concerned with this naming thing. A creative writing prof of mine once argued in class that a title was unimportant, nothing more than a handle with which one could pick up a text and carry it around. I disagreed then, and I disagree now; as Pynchon has it in Gravity’s Rainbow, “names by themselves may have no magic, but the act of naming, the physical utterance, obeys the pattern.” I can’t help but feel that the name is key, that the act of naming can determine the thing’s future.

So what are your favorite names — of software packages, of websites, of organizations? And why? What principles at work in those names might I learn from here?

6 thoughts on “Naming the Future

  1. I’m on your side in the “names are important” debate, and I think “evocative and non-literal but simple” is an admirable goal. I like Eudora. I also like names like McSweeney’s, Tin House, and Celluloid Skyline. Some friends of mine used to have an urban photography site called Lost Cities.

    When I’m trying to think of a good name, I typically just start picking up the books on my shelves and thinking about character names or phrases that capture something about the spirit of my project; that’s how my site ended up being called “major weather.” I like “Imaginary Gardens.” “Blue Guitar.” “Botticelli’s Niece” (not from a book, but that’s okay). Ishmael is a great name, as is Queequeg. I don’t even like James Fenimore Cooper, but I like Bumppo.

    I could go on like this for hours.

  2. I’m a fan of Ecto, to continue with the E’s. Not quite non-literal, but definitely simple, and it evokes for me an arrow pointing outward every time I fire it up.


  3. Looking good! Hmm, names… Eudora, yes, for similar reasons to yours. Safari, which evokes what we’d like our surfing to be even if it’s overly romantic. And… pretty much no other software I can see on my hard-drive; the names are all awful.

    Websites… After Dinner, The White Shoe Irregular, Fluffy Battle Kitten… it’s so hard to stand out from the sea of blogs that the name is almost irrelevant; you just want it to be non-cheesy. Best to avoid puns, although I do like ‘Twist of Fait Accompli’. I was always proud of Walking West.

    Organisations… no, can’t think of anything particularly inspiring there. Barnardo’s? Actually UK banks aren’t bad: Barclays, Lloyds. Shades of the McSweeney’s quirky-surname thing, I guess; which brings us back to Eudora. How about finding a suitably inspirational historical figure and naming it after them?

  4. Interesting that you should suggest that, Rory. The solution, which I think I’ve arrived at, was very similar: over lunch yesterday, R. convinced me of the perfectness of Electra. It’s got the obvious “electr-onic” reference, and the slightly less obvious “e-lecture” reference, but there’s also Electra’s willingness to utterly upset the order of things when pressed to do so. One can either mourn the death of the father — or the monograph — or one can fight back. (I’ll leave the matricidal implications of that fighting-back out for now.)

  5. So, I’d kept my two cents in my pocket until after my mother left town (speaking of matricidal tendencies…) so that I could answer at leisure — and I see, Kathleen, that you’ve said most everything that I wanted to say.

    Of course, I’ll go ahead and say it anyway, just to hear myself talk.

    I agree about “MediaCommons” being not quite right. For one thing, you new-media types don’t hold the intellectual property to mourning/reforming the monograph system. Okay, maybe you do, but ya shouldn’t.

    Also, I’m tremendously in favor of the one-name wonder (a la Eudora). That adverb-adjective (Tightly Wound, Easily Distracted) or adjective-noun (Crooked Timber, Critical Mass….Planned Obsolescence) nomenclature has been too thoroughly claimed by the blog, even if “Comparatively Literate” is easier to pronounce than “Farrar Straus & Giroux.”

    And I like Electra not only for the reasons you mention (esp. the deep meaningfulnessitude), but also for its quiet nod to naming tradition (Ada, Eudora).

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