The Art of Naming

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“Good software developers give their variables good names.”

A manager told me this many years ago. I assumed this showed attention to detail. For, me this statement went much deeper.

Good names build a bridge between the abstract world of symbols and the human world of meaning.

Cover Songs

I am obsessed with song covers. Creating a good cover of a song is like giving a variable a good name. It reflects an essential meaning of the song.

Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” sounds how the words mean in a way the Dylan version does not.

Speech Acts

Language is not only a medium of communication, but it also acts. In our culture, specific phrases change the world. When a judge says, “I now pronounce you wife and wife,” a marriage is created- a new legal entity.

When we write software, we create a language that acts.

Genealogy

A name may start as a label for a part, like “I got new wheels” instead of “I got a new car.” But, over time, this part may grow symbolic power. One day, the word “wheel” may replace the word “car.”

Language can change the way it acts. It evolves.

A New Name

This week I created a new microservice at work. Creating a microservice is momentous, and I spent time discussing the name.

Should we use a similar name as the service this was replacing? Should we use the word security or instrument?

The name and the service co-created each other. When we created this name, we created boundaries.

Did our ancestors name things?

Our ancestors named their children and their livestock, but that was about it. We live in a time of rapid innovation and name things all the time: new products, new variables, new websites, new microservices.

Names come from nothing. An object has a name because someone gives a name to something. It is a gift.

Identity, Pseudonymity, and the Metaverse

Names refer to groups, individuals, containers, and bits and pieces of all of these. Digital technology allows everything to be combined and mixed.

Naming remains one of our most primal psychotechnologies of sensemaking. Good names make sense.