Flooding in Valhalla

June 30th, 2005 — Wordman

I don’t really have a good story for this, but the title is so brilliant, I had to share it. It would be a great name for a book. Plus, it was overheard from a source I almost never watch: local news. Evidently there was a lot of rain north of Manhattan today.

When names go bad

May 6th, 2005 — Wordman

Names matter. How we name things shapes both us and what is being named. A lot of people think that names have mystical power. (I wrote an inarticulate paper in college on attitudes towards mystical naming in Shakespeare’s time, for example.) A role-playing game suggests the idea that what separates us from animals is not tool use or even vocal communication, but that we can name things and animals cannot.

Apple, a company successful in large part because it cares about industrial design, looks and coolness, has developed a disturbing tendency to bestowe stupid names on their technology. This started a few years ago, when Apple came up with an incredibly neat idea. Realizing that all of their machines shipped with video cards with special hardware for drawing 3D technologies like OpenGL very quickly, and that much of this technology contains processors that are, in some ways, more powerful than the main processor of the machine, they hit upon the concept of treating each window on the screen as a thin, textured 3D object, and letting the video hardware deal with layering, drop shadows and so on. Sorry to readers who found the previous description filled with gobbledegook, but take my word for it, this idea borders on brilliant. Though somewhat obvious when you think about it, this is easily the most significant advance in windowing systems in a decade.

So, what did Apple call it? Given they had a graphics technology called Quartz, they decided that this great idea absolutely had to be called Quartz Extreme. Not something that stayed with the mineral theme, but evoked the idea of layers, like, say “Mica”. Not something that kept with a geological terminology like “Quartz Ashlar“, “Tessera” or “Tectonic”. Not even something that, you know, passes the laugh test.

With the release of Tiger they’ve made the naming even stupider with a refinement of the idea called “Quartz 2D Extreme”. Great. Now stupid and hard to say. Again, though, the idea it self is great. In two pages of his epic review of Tiger, John Siracusa explains it all better than I ever could. It’s just a shame such great ideas get such hideous nomenclature. I guess I should count our blessings; they could have called it “iQuartz 2D iExtreme Pro Gold” or something.

Another recent head-scratching name involves yet another really neat technology, this one an open standard. The standard deals with automatic discovery, negotiation and configuration of devices on a network. So, for example, you can just plug a printer into your network and this technology integrates it automatically. The standard itself has a pretty good name: ZeroConf. Apple’s implementation of this standard used to have a great name: Rendezvous. Unfortunately, this word is a registered trademark of someone else, so a lawsuit forced Apple to change the name. If the name they chose for a replacement is any indication, what Apple liked about Rendezvous wasn’t that it neatly encapsulated what the technology did and how it worked, but that it was in French. The new name, Bonjour, seems like it was chosen at random. Granted, something like “Liason” is also already trademarked, but if they wanted to go with French, they could at least have chosen a word that doesn’t sound so dorky, like “Maginot” or “Reddition” or even “Frère Jacques”. “ZeroConf” would be preferable to any of those.

I admit, naming is difficult. Very few things have perfect names. So far, I’ve only seen three things with names I consider absolutely flawless:

  1. A sex shop geared towards women called the Grand Opening
  2. A reggae band called the Joint Chiefs
  3. A book about female pirates called Booty

Anyone know of other great names or naming disasters?