From Firstborns to Chewbacca in between matzo ball soup and matzo munchies

by Eszter Hargittai on April 3, 2007

Who says there are no benefits to blogging? If it wasn’t for CT then I would never have met Matt Gordon and would never have been invited to his wonderful Seder last night. Thanks, Matt!

We talked about lots of things, among them how most Haggadahs lack enough information for a newcomer to really get the Passover story while making the central role of He Who Has No Name unmistakable (even while the rest of the story might remain a bit blurry and I don’t just mean because of the amount of wine consumed).

But we also talked about other things, for example: how one comes to name machines in one’s lab. Perhaps not surprising given my previous post, the machines in my lab have Star Wars references. This idea dates back to the machines in the offices of one of my college mentors: Joe had a big black Next machine that was called Darth and the little white Mac I used was called Yoda. So when I started populating my lab with machines I named the white one Yoda and the two black ones Darth and Vader.

Thanks to recent expansions, I’ve been buying additional hardware so I’ve had to come up with new names. I finalized these yesterday: the iMac is R2-D2, the new Dell desktop is Chewbacca and the two ThinkPads are Han Solo and Falcon. (Jacob will be happy to note that these are all real Star Wars characters.)

I’m curious: what names do other people give machines in their labs? This is not about being silly, by the way. It becomes incredibly tedious to talk about “the computer that’s next to the back wall near the printer” so having names serves an important function.

Regarding the Passover meal, the food was wonderful all around. Thanks to Matt’s friend Love for bringing some great matzo munchies, a treat I’d never tried before. Matt’s (and CC’s) cooking was awesome, too, as was the flourless chocolate cake by another guest Lisa.



Richard J 04.03.07 at 10:41 pm

Um, I call my wireless home network Joachim because I’d been reading the Pursuit of the Millennium shortly beforehand, and Joachim of Fiore was in my head for some reason.

There’s no excuse for calling my PC Charlemagne though, sadly.


Vance Maverick 04.03.07 at 10:44 pm

Doubtless there are ten thousand solutions to this problem, but I think the key is to find a ready-made, widely known domain in which there are lots of handy little names already. In the Berkeley CS department of my day, the convention was to use the names of trees.


Hugh 04.03.07 at 10:48 pm

I called an ancient laptop of mine Hawkeye, after the Fenimore Cooper Last of the Mohicans character. Then each of my external harddrives became places for him to roam: Kentucky, Wyoming, ThePrairies and so on. Eventually I ran out of large states and Hawkeye had to start swimming: Kitchigami (Lk Superior) and whatnot.

I made it very hard to abandon that laptop. Uncas just didn’t work as a replacement, and without an itinerant North American as the subject (I settled on ‘Bandicoot’) the thematic unity is all broken.

Maybe I should toss out all my old harddrives and buy new ones that I can rename in appropriate ways.


Eszter 04.03.07 at 10:48 pm

Richard – it’s better than calling it linksys.:-)

Anybody know the history of why Princeton’s central machines are named after cities in Arizona?


Josh 04.03.07 at 10:51 pm

There also used to be the disaster cluster at Cal: typhoon, tsunami, etc.

I often use volcanoes, for precisely the reason Vance states. Using this site, I can get a name whenever I need one, and unless I need to name more than 1500 machines I’ll never run out.


siriosa 04.03.07 at 11:26 pm

my first computer (a mac plus) and her external devices were country/western singers: dolly, loretta, reba. subsequent computers: novelists (jane, charlotte, anne, gaskill); poets (edna, sylvia, adrienne); politicians (golda, benazir, eleanor); pirates (grace, rusla, wong, sadie-the-goat, artemisia).


Michael B Sullivan 04.03.07 at 11:31 pm

When I worked for Tripod, all of our machines were named from the set of words beginning with the letters “tri.” So there was tripoli and triage and trireme, for example. An exception was our one R&D server, which we obtained after some considerable effort to not have to much around with the general dev server, and named Idaho (as in, “Our own, private…”)

My CS department named all of the Sun machines after various types of cattle (longhorn, angus, etc.)

Sadly, since then, every place I worked has had very boring, utilitarian names, like Dev01 or whatever. It is probably the case that the sheer number of boxes that a modern computer company uses makes thinking of a suitably wide namespace too time consuming. My present company has hundreds of production servers, and dozens of dev/test servers.


MissionPk 04.03.07 at 11:51 pm

My last company had a server named “yomomma”. Made for some interesting conversations:

“Yomomma’s really slow today.”
“Yomomma went down on me again.”




Spoon 04.04.07 at 12:16 am

My laptop is called “Khan,” because when it screws up I want something cathartic to scream at it.


t e whalen 04.04.07 at 12:19 am

At Northwestern, the main campus mail servers used to be named after local restaurants: casbah, merle, hecky, and lulu. I never attended while ‘casbah’ the restaurant was still operating in Evanston. This was a source of confusion.

Since the referred-to restuarants are Merle’s, Hecky’s, and Lulu’s, I wonder if ‘casbah’ referred to a Casbah’s. While Yesterday’s was still open, I hoped for a mail server named ‘yesterday’.

In the department at Northwestern in which I worked, one lab went with species of lemur, another with major North American cities, and a third with that old standby, Simpsons characters.

RFC 1178 is on topic as well.


John Quiggin 04.04.07 at 12:46 am

Mine are all named after mountains in the Australian Alps (well, we call them Alps, but the highest are about 2000m).


Sumana Harihareswara 04.04.07 at 1:22 am

The Open Computing Facility at UC Berkeley: bad things. famine, apocalypse, death, war, tsunami, disaster, firestorm, hurricane….


Davis X. Machina 04.04.07 at 1:54 am

My first Thinkpad was a sub-notebook.

One glass eye:

Bingo — Sammy.


jacob 04.04.07 at 2:08 am

Trent Fisher has a collection of computer naming schemes here that I really like (and not only because I contributed some of the seven-syllable words. I’m a humanist, so I tend to have only once computer at a time, but I rather like naming peripherals after appropriate saints. An old printer was called Genensius (the patron saint of printers, natch). I’ve named computers after various admirable political figures, first a Dubcek and then a Mandela.


emjaybee 04.04.07 at 2:23 am

We once used Wizard of Oz characters, which had the advantage of endless numbers of extras: Munchkin1, FlyingMonkey12, etc. once you ran out of main characters.

The problem is that later, you always want to go back and rename everything in a way that reflects the relationship of their characters; if you already have a Tinman but then get a new item that is even more central, you don’t want to make it another FlyingMonkey.


jacob 04.04.07 at 4:38 am

Re renaming things: The Trent Fisher list I link to above itself links to RFC 1178, which gives advice on naming computers. And was written in 1989. One of the things it talks about is the difficulty of renaming computers, and why it’s rarely worth it, even if you’ve given one them a bad name. I wonder how many of the technically-based “don’ts” are still relevant for today’s networks and internetworks. On one hand, things like the difficulty of renaming computers, I would imagine, would stay the same. On the other hand, 1989 was a long time ago in computer-years.


nick s 04.04.07 at 5:40 am

My first PC (now owned by my sister, and still staggering on at 10 years old) was boswell. My current PC is johnson. My old laptop (a tiny Toshiba) was pope. My current laptop is hume.

(A friend calls her laptop ‘Please’. Best name ever. ‘Please don’t crash.’ ‘Please boot.’)

I’d heard that ‘Homer’ was a very popular name for machines in computer labs, though whether it referred to the one from Springfield or Greece, I do not know.


bad Jim 04.04.07 at 8:47 am

When I was in charge of our company’s network, the machines were named according their users: Gina, Elaine, Bob, Mike, Jim. It made the logs easier to read.


Michael Mouse 04.04.07 at 11:50 am

I once named a machine ‘monad’, after Leibniz’s metaphysical entities. The key joke was supposed to be “monads are window(s)less”. Alas, the intersection of a) the set of people who understood enough philosophy and b) the set of people who understood the anti-GUI/Microsoft jibe turned out to be so small that nobody ever got it without extensive explanation. Which is never a good sign in a joke.


eszter 04.04.07 at 2:42 pm

Some neat stories here, thanks.

I appreciate the dilemma of retiring a computer and retiring a name with it. It’s hard to imagine having the lab without a Yoda machine, but that’s my oldest computer and will probably have to go at some point. Maybe I’ll start using numbers (e.g. Yoda2). Or maybe I’ll just have another Yoda and no one will have to know it’s a reincarnation.


Matthew Gordon 04.04.07 at 4:28 pm

local restaurants: casbah, merle, hecky, and lulu.

Mmmm, Merle’s. We used to go there when I was in high school and get the “Barnyard Platter.” It had all manner of BBQ’d creatures on it.


chris 04.04.07 at 5:28 pm

In honor of my wife’s nordic heritage I used Norse mythology to name our home network’s pieces. She thought it was cute until she noticed that I had named my Macs after the Aesir (Thor, Odin, and Freyr) and her PC after their advasaries, the Giants (Surtr). The router had to be named Asgard because her PC seems to try to take it down on a regular basis.


five toed sloth 04.04.07 at 5:32 pm

This reminds me of the Richard Powers novel Plowing the Dark. Short summary: a Gifted Artist comes to the Pacific Northwest to help a bunch of computer geeks develop a cutting-edge virtual reality system. When she arrives, she astounds the systems gurus by insisting on giving their rendering servers names. (I don’t have the book, but Amazon Reader tells me the offending passage is around page 31.)

I had to put the book away for a few days (picked it up later, and got through about half before deciding I’d been right earlier) – clearly, as the comments above show, Powers had never set foot inside a server room.


greensmile 04.04.07 at 6:15 pm

we named our nodes after our favorite brews.
naming after characters in popular TV shows is not so common any more because few netorks are as small as the cast on a sitcom any more.

BTW, Eszter, if you are ever in Boston around passover, consider yourself invited [it is a mitvah to invite and to accept] to one of our seders.


Linkmeister 04.04.07 at 6:20 pm

Back in 1980 I named the sole computer the company owned (an IBM S/34) Phred. We even had its name posted outside the office door on the paper list of people who worked in there. The auditors didn’t like that worth a damn.


Megan 04.04.07 at 6:33 pm

I never saw it anywhere, but always wished for a cluster named for sexually transmitted diseases.


SP 04.04.07 at 9:05 pm

MIT has numerous examples of this, as you’d expect. The dial-in servers (when they had such things) used to be types of pasta, and the telnet machines were sauces- so when you’d be dialing in to penne and then telnet to pesto, for example.
The Tech, the student newspaper, names various machines after famous news industry people associated with the function of that machine. So one of the design/layout machines was Paul Rand. An opinion machine was George Will. The EIC / chief reporter machine was Helen Thomas. Photo was Henri Cartier-Bresson. The executive editor machine was Ben Bradlee, and that one has a good story- he was on campus in the 90s and actually came by the office and signed the machine, “No crashes, please! -Ben Bradlee.” The machine was later upgraded but I think they still have the case from the original mac that was signed.
A biochemistry lab named standalone machines different DNA bases, and instrument machines amino acids where the code for the amino acid matched the function of the instrument (HPLC = Histidine, eg)


Slayton I. Musgo 04.04.07 at 9:09 pm

Nobody uses the Lord of the Rings naming convention? I used to see so many servers named Gandalf, Frodo, Bilbo, etc. that I assumed it was an obscure requirement.

We use rivers now, based on geography and size: biggest server in India = Ganges, biggest in America = Amazon, etc.


Matthew Gordon 04.04.07 at 9:37 pm

I guess I should mention (as I did over Pesach) that my current lab names the scientific instruments (though not necessarily the computers attached to them) after washed-up 80s starts. We have a David Hasselhoff, a Molly Ringwald, and a Tony Danza.


Michael 04.05.07 at 1:48 am

Our servers used to have names like Jalapeno, Paprika, Bell, Dr….; this of course so we could just refer to “the peppers”. No Sergeant, though; too tough for the spelling-challenged developers, I assume. This convention died (mostly) a couple of years ago, luckily before all of the nasty Fark-readers insisted we name the next new machine “Brian”.
Back to lurkerdom….


Jeff R. 04.05.07 at 5:12 pm

A place I used to work used Lord of the Rings characters. Where I work now, we mostly use names of cities and towns in Mass. I await the day we need to use manchester-by-the-sea. One cluster uses players on the 2004 Red Sox. There is some logic to it: the database server is varitek and its hot backup is mirabelli. I like two of the USNO’s time servers: and


jackd 04.05.07 at 8:39 pm

I’ve been amused for a longish time at the Slashdot post that mentioned two routers named Kyle and Stan with the main server being Big Gay Al.

Comments on this entry are closed.