In the real world, computers are typically given names, usually strictly functional names or serials (such as accounting_server or fx98v4p), but also themed names, in order to allow for identification, particularly over a network. Since even professionals (both fictional and real) struggle with pronunciation and identification of an obscure manufacturing code, pop culture naturally has a tendency to seep into the naming of products.
While it initially wasn't prevalent in fiction, writers and producers soon realized that naming computers was common practice, and proceeded to make computer and robot names substantially more dramatic than groupings like Cleo, Tony and Jules.note
In order to make an AI seem sinister or awesome enough, a few themes are typically adhered to in movies and literature that can allow said AI be categorized into several groups:
- Acronyms: By use of Shoehorned First Letters if necessary.note
- "Automatic Computer" names: A theme literally as old as ENIAC and popularized by Univac. Mostly a Forgotten Trope outside of Retraux works. note
- Names Related To Functional descriptionsnote
- Abbreviated model names or serial numbers: note
- "Electronic Brain" names: somewhat of an Undead Horse Trope, possibly on its way to full resurrection by tropes like Organic Technology and Wet Ware CPU note
- Famous Figures, Places, or Things: A common way of hinting at the nature and complexity of an AI. May also reference the history of computing. note
- Human Names - used both as a source of ironic humor and as a way to indicate that an AI is truly sapient. Often overlaps with the Acronym convention and Famous Figures. note
- Names without meaning beyond being awesome note
This practice is Truth in Television. While more common in the era of Mainframes and Minicomputers, the practice of giving computers clever pet names still remains popular among hardcore computer enthusiasts and IT departments. In addition to using the same naming conventions already mentioned, there are several additional patterns found in the naming of real-world computers, servers, robots, and networks. As one might expect when certain personality types become involved, these can be a bit odd:
- Names based on the type of computer- essentially the modern form of the "Automatic Computer" name. For instance, Texas Tech's primary supercomputer is based on a Beowulf Cluster Structure, and so was named Hrothgar after the king in Beowulf.
- Theme Naming: When an individual builds a personal network or an organization has multiple large servers or supercomputers, they frequently give them themed names. There are several especially common themes:
- ironically cute and/or completely absurd names like Sesame Street characters, brands of beer, and anime characters.
- In Jokes like an astronomy lab having all of its servers named after obscure star names.
- Specialties: For instance the HP Graphics lab's early 3d test beds "transform", "matrix", "raster", "jaggy", "spline", etc.
- Religious: Figures from mythology. It's not uncommon to see, for example, UNIX machines named hermes, zeus, athena, and morpheus, with Windows workstations being odin, thor, freya and Android devices being michael, raphael, gabriel, lucifer.
The Trope Namer is this page on the Portland Pattern Repository. Note that this trope is specifically about computers, robots, and A.I.s that are given abnormal titles; see Named Weapons, I Call It "Vera" and I Call Him "Mister Happy" for other examples. Note that an aversion of this trope involves a bland AI in an extraordinary setting (e.g. a computer named "computer" in a high space opera setting).
See also Robot Names and Name-Tron. One Bad Mother also has enough examples to be a Sister Trope. Can overlap with What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?.
- Case Closed: One of the characters from the Night Baron Murder Case has named his laptop „Satomi“, the name of his late mother, and he treats his laptop like his girlfriend. Conan is creeped out by this.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The three NERV mainframes are called Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, after the Three Wise Men.
- W.O.T.A.N. in Luther Arkwright is the supercomputer used on parallel 00.00.00 to keep track of events on other parallels in The Multiverse.
- The Swedish comic James Hund had the sentient computer Kurt during one story. When a reporter asked its maker what the name stood for, the scientist replied that it didn't stand for anything; he'd just named it Kurt. After his pet budgie.
- On the Shoulders of Giants, a Mass Effect fic, almost universally employs name without meaning, ranging from fanciful to historically significant to indistinguishable from an organic being's given name.
- Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. The Great Calculator (originally the 2-X Machina) is a Zee Rust Master Computer that runs the entire solar system.
- In the Parody Fic ALIEN!!!, the Master Computer is called Big Brother.
- Alien. The Nostromo's Master Computer is called "Mother". Whatever maternal image the Company was invoking is hampered by it being programmed with orders that might not be in the crew's interest. In Alien: Resurrection the Auriga's computer is called Father in a Call-Back to the first movie.
- Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2 feature a military robot warrior project called SAINT (Strategic Artificially Intelligent Nuclear Transport). Each robot is given a numerical designation, and our hero is Number 5. He's called "Number 5" throughout the first film, until the end, when he gives himself the name Johnny 5.
- Star Wars films have all droids named with serial numbers, most notably R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8.
- Terminator has Skynet, but the individual Terminators don't have onscreen names, just model numbers.
- In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man names his A.I.s (first JARVIS and then FRIDAY, both of whom are Fun with Acronyms examples), his lab robots (Dummy and Butterfingers), and at times even gives nicknames to his armors, who also have technical "Mark-*" names (in Iron Man 3, for instance, the heavy lifting Mark XXXVIII is "Igor"; in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Hulkbuster - or more specifically, its delivery satellite - is "Veronica").
- WOPR is the name of the military supercomputer in WarGames, standing for War Operation Plan Response. It was intended by the writers to be a more amusing name (reminiscent of "Whopper") than that of NORAD's real-life SIOP (Single Integrated Operation Plan), although SIOP was a series of documents rather than a computer.
- TRON has a tendency to go nuts with these, as most of the characters are sentient computer Programs. The title character? Short for "electronic" (though there is a real-world BASIC command with the name). Tron's two apprentices in the TRON: Uprising animated series were named Beck and Cyrus after a graphical rendering algorithm. Freeze-Frame Bonus material in TRON: Legacy show a lot of Programs that were named for real-world computer scientists, and TRON 2.0 went crazy with Theme Naming, giving normal civilian Programs human-style names like Felicia and Archie, virus-infected Programs names like Duradanal and Rampancy, the security software names like Morton and Spoolserv, Resource Hog gangsters names like Exploder and Photo Edit, etc.
- Hackers has our hacker protagonists trying to hack a supercomputer called the Gibson, named in honor of William Gibson. One of the hackers' own computers is also named Lucy.
- In an old joke passed around IT and technology circles, a sysadmin sets up a server for their company and names it Homer, intending to theme-name later servers Aristotle, Plato, and so on. Unfortunately, they don't get the chance to set up a second server before they leave the company. Their successor saw the server named Homer and proceeded to name the next one Marge.
- In the Chaos Timeline, several A.I.s named themselves after random strings - three of them are called X27, a_gcl and Horace.
- The unique computer from Monday Begins on Saturday, possibly intelligent and definitely having a soul, is called "Aldan" after a river in Siberia (its actual model name is Aldan-3).
- The Xanth series has a computer named Com Pewter.
- In Young Wizards, Dairine's wizard manual takes the form of a sentient computer that tends to "upgrade" itself every once in a while, most notably from a desktop model to a laptop with retractable legs. She calls it Spot.
- First Universal Cybernetic-Kinetic Ultramicro-Programmer or FUCKUP in Illuminatus!.
- Hex, the Clock Punk Magitek computer of Unseen University in the Discworld novels. In Real Life, it's a play on "hex", meaning spell, and "hexadecimal". In-Universe, it seems to have that name because that's the sort of name a computer should have, and much of Hex's construction was based on this principle, even if the wizards didn't know why, or even what a computer was. In Unseen Academicals, Brazeneck University's extremely original and not at all derivative chicken-powered thinking engine is called Pex.
- While I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream only has one computer, he's given several names; first Allied Mastercomputer, then Adaptive Manipulator, then Aggressive Menace. Finally, it calls itself AM; I think, therefore I AM.
- R. A. Lafferty has the recurring character of Epiktistes the Ktistec Machine.
- Golem XIV, the titular super-intelligent computer from the novel by Stanisław Lem.
- Lobsang, the AI in The Long Earth, although he claims that he's a Tibetan Buddhist who happens to have reincarnated as an AI.
- The Doctor Who Expanded Universe, especially in works by Ben Aaronovitch and Kate Orman, is fond of AIs with names in block capitals, but which don't seem to be acronyms. These include FLORANCE in Transit, SLEEPY (and GRUMPY) in SLEEPY and DOCTOR in Seeing I.
- The Culture: the various artificially intelligent ships (aka the Culture Minds) name themselves... and since they have strange senses of humor, a lot of their names can be very silly. Examples include names like "Space Monster", "Frank Exchange of Views", "I Blame Your Mother", and "Gravitas Free Zone".
- Giants Series: ZORAC, VISAR, and JEVEX all get all-caps names, implying they're acronyms of some sort, but we never find out more. ZORAC may be inspired by Automatic Computer-type names. In the original books, they're printed in small caps, but that didn't survive the move to e-books, where the names are given in all-lowercase.
- Blake's 7 gave us Oracnote , Zen note and Slavenote . In this case they were Meaningful Names — Orac was (though only in its introductory episode) an oracle, extrapolating future events from the data it collected. The alien computer Zen was presented as a mysterious keeper of knowledge. Slave had been programmed with a cringing subservient personality.
- Over its long run, Doctor Who has been all over this trope, from a war computer called WOTAN to the utilitarian Matrix (Gallifrey's equivalent of Star Trek's Memory Alpha) to mastermind A.I.s like BOSS and Mentalis and functionally-named robots like Kamelion and K-9. According to series 6, the Doctor's TARDIS is named "Sexy".
- Star Trek, in general, tends to be surprisingly mundane — A.I.s tend to have personal names (Data, Lore, Vaal, Landru) or bear legacy names (Nomad, Voyager), and non-intelligent computers seldom have names at all. There is a scattering of model number, such as M-5 from the TOS episode "The Ultimate Computer". The Borg, though not computers, tend to have names/designations related to their location and function such as "Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01."
- Silicon Valley: Guilfoyle has named his server "Anton" after Anton LaVey.
- In Whiz Kids, the computer assembled by Richie Adler and created from the equipment scheduled to be scrapped obtained by Richie's father, is affectionately called "Ralf". Given that the parts are usually obtained in the father's work as telecom engineer for various firms overseas, Ralf has multiple components and capabilities normally unavailable for a home computer in the 80s, including a camera that acts as input for a facial identification system.
- Albums by the band Big Black credited their TR-606 drum machine as a member of the band named "Roland." Later when the bass player quit to enter law school the band's press release stated the band was breaking up because Roland quit due to "creative differences."
- Naming drum machines as if they were band members was not uncommon in bands of a certain vintage. Sisters of Mercy named theirs "Doktor Avalanche," and there's a persistent rumor (denied by the band) that "Echo" of Echo and the Bunnymen also refers to their electronic drummer.
- The title supercomputer in Xenon has no meaning other than sounding exotic.
- T.W.I.T, the on-board computer of Fluff Catt's shuttle transporter in The Space Gypsy Adventures. Ostensibly, the name stands for Terminal of Waveline Interception and Transmission. In reality, Fluff calls it that because it is one!
- Halo uses a mixture: UNSC AIs mostly have either regular names like Serina and/or history/mythology-themed ones like Cortana, named after the sword of Holger the Dane from The Song of Roland (thus also a nod to Marathon's Durandal). Forerunner AIs all have somewhat abstract "adjective + noun" names like Guilty Spark and Mendicant Bias.
- Portal series:
- As mentioned above, Portal is based around a human's dealings with the master control computer of a giant laboratory complex, who is named GLaDOS. GLaDOS is obsessed with conducting science experiments and has a skewed sense of morality. It is implied that she killed all other humans in the complex, though likely as a self defense measure to prevent them switching her off.
- In addition to GLaDOS's return, Portal 2 also features a major AI character named Wheatley, who is no more than a robotic ball who relies on transport rails or the player to take him where he needs to go.
- Half-Life 2 and its expansions feature the burly robot "Dog". As the name implies, Dog was built to be a pet of Alyx Vance's. He understands human commands, but can not speak himself, communicating mostly through head gestures. Like a playful dog, Dog sometimes gets over excited and carried away and has to be told by Alyx to stop whatever he's doing.
- System Shock:
- In the first game, the villain is a corrupt AI computer named SHODAN, Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network. After being corrupted by the player character and developing a malevolent AI, SHODAN eliminates her human masters and begins a scheme to escape her space station home and transmit her personality into the computers of planet earth.
- System Shock 2 has another corrupt AI named XERXES 8933A/A.
- Mass Effect series:
- EDI, introduced in Mass Effect 2 is an acronym, with her name standing for Enhanced Defense Intelligence.
- Legion, meanwhile, is both a fanciful-but-appropriate functional name. Since geth have no concept of individuality, EDI contrived the Meaningful Name from Biblical mythology. While it is indeed an awesome name, it was intended to draw the parallel as a way to understand the geth's gestalt consciousness.
- In Mass Effect 3, Dr. Eva Core is named after a deceased companion of The Illusive Man, with the implication that she was something of a Replacement Goldfish for the original.
- In Mass Effect: Andromeda, the local AI is named SAM (Simulative Adaptive Matrix). The name isn't unique to that AI: each of the five arks had a SAM on board, referred to as such.
- CABAL (Computer Assisted Biologically Augmented Lifeform) in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and its expansion. As its name implies, it uses People Jars to power it and at the Nod ending of Firestorm it shows that it's keeping Kane alive. There's also LEGION from the third game's expansion Kane's Wrath, with the acronym standing for "Logarithmically Engineered Governing Intelligence Of Nod".
- In Marathon, there doesn't seem to be a theme: among them, Durandal (Roland's sword from "Song of Roland"), Tycho (presumably after the astronomer), Thoth (Egyptian mythology), and Leela (pre-dates Futurama by nearly a decade)
- The Talos Principle:
- One possibility for how Elohim got its name. Elohim is the simulation's Holistic Integration Manager, sort of an AI dungeon master, and the supercomputer is divided into three partitions, including EL-0 that the simulation is running in; EL-0 HIM.
- The various names of the other bots, who left behind messages (as well as your own characters name) are mentioned in one document as basically being video game handles dumped into a randomizer, due to a lack of time and anything better to use.
- In Obsidian, an AI-controlled satellite that dispenses nanobots is called "Ceres", after the Greek goddess, since the AI was programmed to use its nanobots to fix Earth's polluted atmosphere.
- The Turing Test: The AI you interacts with is called "TOM", which stands for "Technical Operations Machine". At one point TOM claims it has a twin AI called "Michael" the ISA uses for testing.
- From Battleborn:
- ISIC's name is derived from him originally being an I/O system integration and coordination subroutine within Minion Robotics.
- The supreme AI that once kept all the Magnuses as well as much of the LLC's systems in top working condition is named after the Magna Carta.
- MINREC's name comes from being a MINeral REClamation Magnus in charge of recycling facilities.
- In the first game of the Outpost franchise the default name (you can change it if you want) of the AI that helps you is "Aphrodite", after the Greek goddess of love and fecundity.
- Red vs. Blue:
- The main A.I.s are named after the Greek alphabet. The first to be created is named Alpha, but the others' names are seemingly picked at random from the list, including Delta, Theta, Omega, Sigma...
- There's also F.I.L.S.S., Freelancer Integrated Logistics and Security System, pronounced "Phyllis." Otherwise known as Sheila.
- Played with in Homestar Runner: Throughout the run of Strong Bad Emails, Strong Bad goes through a series of computers whose official names are deliberately uncreative descriptions of themselves like "Compy" the desktop computer and "Lappy" the laptop.
- Questionable Content's AnthroPCs generally have personal names (like Winslow and Momo-tan), though Pintsize is a somewhat jocular functional name and one-shot character PT410x (likely a serial number or, since PT410x was owner-constructed, a fanciful model number) eschews the very idea of a "slave name".
- The most intelligent IA in S.S.D.D. is called The Oracle, he has two purposes: predicting the future and improving his performance predicting the future.
- Erwin from User Friendly. Overall benevolent, unless you're Steff the marketing VP. But, well, Steff's an asshole.
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! has a functional name: Roofus the roof-repairing robot. And although it was nonsentient, there was also the Ultra-Ballistaroid: a steam-powered transforming ballista made of snow. Molly built and named them.
- There are not a lot of A.I.s in the Whateley Universe because of the ongoing threat of The Palm, but Loophole has an illegal A.I. named Carmen. Most disturbingly, the voice and holographic image for Carmen are modeled after the mutant who raped her.
- The Jetsons had a computer/robot named UNIBLAB and George's work computer, RUDI.
- Doctor Blight on Captain Planet and the Planeteers had MAL.
- Spongebob Squarepants has KAREN, Plankton's computer wife.
- Defenders of the Earth has Dynak-X and Octon, both of whom regularly keep the Defenders or Ming (accordingly) informed of what is happening in the opposing camp.
- IBM's first famous chess-playing computer, Deep Thought, was named after the computer that designed Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; IBM's later Deep Blue, the independently-developed Deep Fritz, and IBM's Blue Gene supercomputing products carried on the naming theme.
- The real-life Shub-Internet was named after a joke in The Jargon File and operated as a server in the Pentagon for a number of years. Obviously a very silly name without meaning, relating to the Internet's origins as a US Defense Department project.
- The first ISP in Russia, demos.ru, went online in 1989 and was used, among other things, as a news relay during the August Coup in 1991. It shares a name with DEMOS, a Unix clone developed at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy in the early 80s; if demos.ru was actually a DEMOS system at the time, that would make it a rather lame mix of acronym and functional name. (But one with one hell of a history behind it.)note
- NASA's Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers were named in a student essay competition; the winner was a third grader, originally from Russia, named Sofi Collis.
- Carnegie Mellon University's servers for computer science courses are named after fish ("flounder", "grouper", "kingfish", etc.), as is the tradition for Intel engineers. Over time, the 'fish machines' became replaced by more powerful 'shark machines' ("angelshark", "bambooshark", "baskingshark", etc.), both fitting the naming tradition and their increase in size and speed.
- Reddit allows users to name its servers if the user purchased Reddit Gold on a day Reddit hit its Reddit Gold goal. The names tend to reference pop-culture, recent news, memes, or puns.
- Cute backronyms are common for today's most powerful machine learning models:
- Bidirectional Encoder Representations (BERT) - successor to ELMo, predecessor of ERNIE. Why are so many AI systems named after muppets?
- Meta's LLaMA, which after being leaked, was adapted into Stanford's Alpaca