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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?


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