Contest: What’s in a Name?

In Freakonomics, we make the argument that a child’s first name doesn’t affect his or her life outcome. I am guessing that most inanimate objects, too, are relatively unaffected by the names they happen to pick up — even if the names aren’t very good.

It has always struck me that a lot of the things we do and use and see every day have names that aren’t very accurate or appropriate or idiomatic. For instance: airport. Buses go to a bus station, trains go to a train station, but planes go to an airport? It’s not a terrible name — you could argue, in fact, that it’s better than “bus station” or “train station,” since it’s one word instead of two — but it is a bit odd. Once something is invented and named, however, its name rarely changes.

I don’t mean to say that most invented common nouns are bad. Speed dating strikes me as a great term: accurate, memorable, descriptive. I like e-mail pretty well, and I love snail mail; in the spirit of these terms, I’ve been trying to get people to refer to the telephone (another term I don’t love) as ear mail, but I have failed miserably.

So I thought we’d try a little exercise here: taking a common noun that we use all the time and trying to come up with a better name from scratch. Think of it as a chance, however minor, to rewrite history. Whoever comes up with the best suggestion gets a Freakonomics prize of their choice: a signed book, a yo-yo, or a fact-a-day calendar.

Today’s word: computer.

Sure, a computer computes, and that name probably made sense back when the computer came into being; but now it strikes me as a really lousy term for a machine that’s changed the way we interact, think, do business, etc.

List your new names for this miraculous machine in the comments below. And if you have suggestions for future renaming projects, send them to melissa (at) freakonomics (dot) com.

Addendum: You can see the winners of the contest named here.

narcio helmanson

the Box of all trades..



It's the name of a fantastic web site, so I'll share credit with them; but it is a fantastic name for a computer.

Clyde Abell

Technological Interest Mediator

As the "computer" is the only thing between the human mind and an endless world of information, hobbies, communication, etc.

Another option, for the mere simplicity of the matter, is E-Mediator.

Jesus Lice


D Johnson

Gates enricher?


Body Information Liaison or BIL.

Kinda similar to Clyde's idea but now it's named after me. Take that!

Matt Johnson

Simple: "Comportal" meaning an entrance into a vast array of networks, worlds, uses, etc. In other words, it's a portal into connecting with others, paying bills, doing research, etc.

It is also catchy because it isn't too far off from "computer."

Ameer A


Computers these days are all shapes and sizes, therefore I think "Portal" is descriptive.


(Business) Man's Best Friend


Sem - Software Execution Machine

Although I think that computer is still a fairly good name.

Also #3 was onto a great thing there. I would choose 'Personal pornography device' myself.




Raj Pandravada

I'm a big fan of Roald Dahl. How about GAG - "Great Automatic Grammatizator"?


data vessel


For a combination of information and transistor to "Infotor."

...this whole naming thing is a bit harder than I'd imagined.


I, for one, like 'airport.' If you think about embarking to the sea from a seaport, and embarking to the air from the airport, this differentiates these places from stations (train,bus) because with those methods of travel, you are remaining on land.


in continuing with airport and seaport, how about e-port, as a general term for a place to deal with all things electronic.



Dominic Pody

Life Organizer

As opposed to a day planner (ancient) or the Personal Organizer (PDAs, etc.), computers organize our lives through their various methods of organizing our lives; the internet, calenders, etc.



...people always say "can I use your internet" already instead of "can I use your computer"...