At the University of Pennsylvania distributed systems lab (just a bunch of SPARC pizza boxes — a few 5s, lots of 20s, and a bunch of Ultra 5s and such, used as glorified X terminals, really) all the machines are named after dances, of all things. So you can sit down to work at lambada, waltz, or twostep. My personal favorites are foxtrot and tango, which just set the programming mood for me. Never before had I considered just how many dances there were.

There is another large group of machines named after units of measurement — from plank, mile, and fathom thru parsec, as well as others like peck, decibel, and mol. The one named gradient is used by all the TAs, a clever pun if you ask me. The main servers have such unimaginative names as red, blue, and button, Penn landmarks of a sort. However, we are redeemed: the engineering school's central server is called eniac. (eniac happens to consist of red and blue and the file server, but that's irrelevent.) The original ENIAC was developed at Penn. Go us. ;-)

There was a time when all my personal machines and some of my friends' were named after the Endless: destiny was the domain controller, dream was my dual-celeron box, death was my PII 250, despair was my roomate's P200, destruction was my friend Victor's box, and delirium was my (ex) girlfriend's. Nobody ever wanted desire, for some reason, which is kind of ironic, now that I think about it. This had the advantage of causing all our boxes to sort next to eachother in Network Neighborhood.

After Toy Story 2 came out, my computers were named Death By Monkeys and Slotted Pig on VNN.

Before college and thru Freshman year, my linux box was named nuku, after the titular character from All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku. Somehow I never came up with other satisfactory related names for other machines, and decided to switch schemes.

Inspired by a particular softlink below, I might just have to rename my computers after alcoholic beverages: vodka, gin, rum ... lots of good short names.

What wilt thou name thy computer, knave?

The personification of inanimate computenmachines is a folly dating back to the earliest days of vacuum tubes and punch cards. Remember UniVAC and ENIAC? Acronyms, true... but pronounceable names nonetheless.

Why is this? As human beings, we have an innate compulsion to call something by its name, and as indistinct as computers tend to be (more so now than ever before), naming a box that crunches zeroes and ones is perfectly natural and exceedingly useful. But there is much more to this practice than simple practicality.

The names we give our computers tend to be a very personal thing. Even if the particular computer is not something that we use daily or even consider terribly important, its name is almost always a mark that has some meaning to us, even if only in some small way. And why not? All the computers we use in our lives have the need to be distinguished from each other in the same way that the people in our lives do.

Computer nomenclature is often a source of some amusement, but in business settings generally tends to reflect the machine's primary user. In the case of server farms, the creative aspect of naming becomes rather binary: all computers are named with some numerical component (very uncreative) or with some abstract naming convention that may or may not bear any relationship to the other servers in the cluster.


Of course, there are many different protocols that "naming" one's computer might apply to. The most important and pervasive one would undoubtably be DNS, but WINS or NetBIOS/NetBEUI, IPX and AppleTalk are also common. While each protocol has it's own device naming rules, most intelligent sysops tend to unify these with some consistency.

You have most likely given your computer a name, because you were forced to or asked to when you first set it up, and most likely it was something that had meaning for you personally. Considering your choice, ask yourself this question:

Do androids dream of electric sheep?
Why would you want to name a computer?
The same reason one would want to name a ship, I suppose. It's a tool, yet its owners frequently (in the case of people like me) have a very close relationship with it, and perceive it as having human qualities or tendencies. Corporations or Universities with large farms frequently name the computers to have an easy, eloquent way of referring to them, one which is more descriptive than just using numbers.

What kind of name should I pick?
The name of your computer should be a reflection of your own personality and mannerisms, and you perceive your computer. For example, all my boxen are named after moons. europa, ganymede, deimos, callisto. When I was choosing their names, I was in the midst of reading Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: odyssey two, so I was somewhat inspired by that. Some people like to name their computers after characters or concepts from a favorite book or anime. Some like abstract concepts, such as mathematical terms. Some prefer names from Greek or Norse mythology. Basically, it's up to you, totally. Be warned, however, that you simply cannot change the name once it sticks. Nothing is stopping you, it's just bad luck. Like renaming a ship after it's already been christened as something else. Also, naming computers after real-life people is very bad luck. I'm not sure why, but it just is.

How do I go about implementing the name?
Under Unix, there is a command which will basically set the name of the computer. Become root, and in the terminal do:

# hostname (yourname).(yourdomain.dom)
You may omit the yourdomain.dom if you wish, it doesn't really make much of a difference. Under MacOS, you may name the computer in the File Sharing control panel (called Sharing Setup under OS 7.x and below). Under Windows...well, if you use Windows chances are you don't care for your computer enough to give it a name. There is, to my knowledge, no facility to name your computer under Windows (cue myriad of uppity Windows users correcting me...)
Additionally, if you happen to have DNS control over the domain the machine is in, you may want to add an "A" or "CNAME" entry for it. Consult your BIND reference of choice on how to configure the nameserver.

And again, choose carefully. Computers resent being given a bad name...

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