Naming your computer

Sam Ess
February 16, 2021
Headshot of Sam Ess

Sam Ess

I love naming computers, it’s one of the best parts of my job.  However, I think it’s important that a computer is named by the person who will be using it.  I’ve compiled a list of best practices and “gotchas” that I’ve come across while naming machines, and I’ve tried to include as many real life examples as I can.
  • Start with something meaningful – A good host name has meaning, even if it’s very small.  You can name it after a favorite author like “Vonnegut” or “Twain”, or a favorite book or game like “Midgar” or “Wiggen”.  It can be something silly like “MegaHawk” or “SuperEagle”.  As long as it has some meaning or brings you happiness, you’re off to a good start.
  • Make it unique – A host name needs to be unique to whatever network it will be on, otherwise it won’t do a very good job of identifying your computer.  You can check to see if there is already a computer using a name you’ve picked by running the nslookup command with the name you’re looking for from a command line.  It’s also a good idea to lookup any names that are similar, so you don’t end up having both “Phyrigia” and “Phyrigian” on your network.
  • Avoid using real names – As a computer name should be unique, you shouldn’t use your name, since that already identifies you.  You also shouldn’t use someone else’s name, since that identifies them.  Having a computer named “Rachel” can be very can be very confusing, especially if you work with a Rachel and it isn’t her computer.
  • Keep it short – In the olden days, computer names had a strict maximum length.  Today, you can usually have as long a name as you’d like, but it’s a good idea to keep it brief.  The longer the name is, the more you’ll have to type each time you want to get to it.  “Tulip” is better than “Chrysanthemum”.
  • Make sure it’s easy to spell and say – A good host name is easy for someone else to spell and say. Communication involves more than one person.  You can make it something challenging like “Vercingetorix” or “Mxyzptlk”, but you should be prepared to spell it whenever that names comes up.
  • Avoid homophones – I learned this on the hard way: never use homophones. I had a computer named “Serra”, and everyone who was told to look for it would always look for “Sarah”. This also applies to intentional misspellings, which can be good for a joke but bad for a host name.
  • Be polite – This one is simple: don’t make your computer’s name something rude or offensive.  Luckily, I don’t have any examples for this particular point.

If you keep these in mind, you should be well on your way to having a great name for your computer!