4 min read

The Name Of The Wind

The Name Of The Wind
Naming seems like a pretty challenging magical discipline. All credit to Patrick Rothfuss

When you think about it, names do have power.

I don't mean in the magical sense, as is common in so many fantasy universes, though that would be pretty cool as well.

I mean in the sense that when you correctly identify and label something, using that name can inspire all sorts of thoughts and feelings in the minds of the people that hear it.

The ability to leverage that power is an important skill to have if you plan on leading or directly people in any way.

As a bonus, naming is an opportunity to have a little bit of fun as well.

Words Are Pale Shadows Of Forgotten Names

Back in January 2023, in my post about project management, I briefly talked about naming, saying that the name of the project was the most important part.

It's not of course, I was being facetious.

But while the name of something might not be the most important element, it is important all the same.

Creating a good name for something is all about providing an identity. Something that people can use as a reference point and that you can use as the foundation for shared understanding.

A good name is unique, memorable, and ideally, descriptive. Descriptive in the sense that the name itself might be enough to tell at least part of the story about what it is that is being identified.

Names don't have to be descriptive; it just helps. Abstract names with no pre-existing meaning are fine, but they require more effort to entrench into the minds of those that you are trying to communicate with. Establishing an abstract name for something is often an exercise in branding.

Think about Apple. The name Apple doesn't really mean anything in isolation, but I bet that the moment you read that word, you thought of Apple devices and computers and all sorts of related things. A lot of people have spent an incredible amount of effort binding that particular name with the meaning they want it to have.

And they succeeded.

That is the power of names.

Everyone Tells A Story About Themselves

The famous Domain Driven Design book by Eric Evans takes naming a step further, introducing the concept of ubiquitous language.

The ubiquitous language is the set of clearly named concepts and operations that fall within a bounded context. It provides a shared vocabulary that people can use to talk about things in an aligned way.

My main exposure to the concept is within the boundary of creating and maintaining software, as having an appropriate ubiquitous language can help a group of disparate stakeholders (i.e. developers, managers, product representatives, customers, etc) create something valuable.

From my experience, not having something like this can be dangerous, as it leads to misalignment. This in turn increases the chances of bugs in the software or misinterpreted requirements, dramatically decreasing the effectiveness of the resulting solution.

Sometimes a language will arise organically, as people start talking about things and naturally put names to them.

But that's definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Most of the time, if you're interested in naming things consistently or going a step further and introducing a structured and well-organised language, you'll have to accept that it's going to take a significant amount of effort.

Like Using A Pencil To Draw A Picture Of Itself

Naming, whether it be in its raw form, or in the form of a ubiquitous language, is mostly a function of discipline.

Don't get me wrong, there is a creative aspect to it as well. An art to selecting the right words to describe things.

But for a name or a language to be effective, consistency is more important than the brilliance of whatever words were chosen to represent your concepts.

The more you refer to something in the same way, the more embedded that concept gets in the minds of the people who are interacting with it.

You need to use the name when talking about the subject, when writing anything down, in the user interfaces and hell, even in the resulting code. Everything has to be consistent.

This means you'll need to correct people if they start using some other identifier, preventing alternate names for things from getting loose and gaining strength of their own.

You'll also have to correct people if they use a name incorrectly, because dilution of the meaning will weaken the name for its intended usage.

People will think you're being pedantic, and honestly, they are probably right, but it's the price you pay if you want a name to stick.

Speaking of which, there is another downside of naming other than the effort and discipline required to establish and maintain it.

Naming is a limitation. It constrains a concept or set of concepts, making it far easier to make the decision that something else, something that doesn't fit in the box, is of no concern.

That can be beneficial, but it can also be detrimental, especially if the name has been chosen poorly.

We Become What We Pretend To Be

Honestly, naming is probably something that is far more important to me than it is to other people.

I have a very structured mind. I like to draw boxes and create boundaries around things. It helps me to understand, and it helps me to operate.

I struggle the most when things are vague or lack clarity and effective naming helps me to mitigate that.

Not everyone is like me.

Some people thrive in chaos. I don't know how they do it, but they do it all the same.

Such people still benefit from the presence of names, but they struggle with the effort required to establish them and the discipline required to maintain them.

That's okay though, as their brand of chaos is beneficial in other ways.

At least I assume so.