Phony Names

What is in a phony name?

When I was younger, I savored the task of generating phony names as test data for my applications. Working in a lab in a university with professor bosses who generally didn't care what the code or test data looked like so long as it worked, the sky was the limit. Depending upon the mood, hour and project, I used a wide variety of names:

  • Darth Vader. Come on, who doesn't use this one? When I played Taipan on the Apple //e, my trading company was always "Darth Vader & Co" or "Vader & Son Ltd".
  • Mr. T. Rip-Tide was never as cool as the A-Team and while Face Man was Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica, no one was as tough as Mr. T...sucka!
  • Moe, Larry or Curly. But never Shemp or Joe.
  • Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo. Can you name the fifth Marx brother? Someone complained when I named a mail server Chico -- it did not project the right image. I'll get back to this.
  • Frodo. Any of the Lord of the Rings characters will do although I wasn't as much of a fan.
  • The Smiths. The Smith family is a large family: Suzy, Sam, Sonny, Ezmerelda, Joan, Joanie, Paul, Fred, Wilma, Lisa, and Efram. A few were "the second", "the third", "jr." or "sr." -- Efram Smith III or Lisa Smith Sr. Adding name prefixes and suffixes to any name works well -- Darth Vader, Esq. or Dr. Mr. T.
  • Grumpy. I rarely used names sanctioned by Disney for its dwarves. Pukey, Gassy and so on down Toilet Humor avenue. The Smurfs worked this way as well.
  • Foo. Foodle, foople, foobar, foobaz, fooberella, foobonzo, barfoo, bar, foobarfoo, fee, feedle, feebar, fee fi fo foo, and fooperman. It is in the genes.
  • Zippy. Not sure why I used this one other than it was easy to type. I didn't read the comic.
  • Mr. Hand. He also played Uncle Martin but Mr. Hand ruled.
  • Evel Knievel. His action cycle toy kicked ass. It really did do all the stuff in the commercial and then some.

Part of the fun was obscurity. Unfortunately, some of the names ultimately came back to haunt me. For example:

  • Chico did not go over well with one of the professors I worked with -- it did not reflect the seriousness of the research mission of the lab. True. That explains why the CS network was littered with constellation and planet names...and ice cream flavors. Have you ever compiled an ada program on a machine named "Tutti-Fruiti"? Is an ice cream name more serious than a Marx Brother? Is Peppermint Kazoo more serious than Gummo? Rocky Road > Fatty Arbuckle? Where does Mr. T fit in?
  • Johnny Dumass. I buried that one deep in the troubleshooting section of the user documentation for an obscure tool I wrote to support output file conversions. I believed the error so inane (equivalent to not plugging in the computer) that I used an example with Mr. Dumass. Hilarious with fellow students, not so much with mucky-mucks who insist on running every utility.
  • I don't remember the specific name, but I named one set of programs after a guy who came up with the theory the code was designed to test. I did this one weekend when I was deep in Turbo C code and I needed a name; it seemed appropriate. The research project was relatively successful and the program evolved and ultimately had its name changed. The reason? Academics are sensitive; never name a program after someone else's theory even if you are testing that theory. Same rule for axioms.

Moving from smaller academic shops to larger corporate operations, name selection is more important. Now when I need a name, I don't flip open my guide to silent movie era actors but rather a list of phony names drawn up by guys with "Esq" after their names. And while Darth Vader is not on the list, the Smith family is well represented.

I still believe you can have fun with phony names on smaller projects at smaller shops. You cancertainly use funny names as informal test data for your applications. For official publications, Darth is obviously a no-no...and so might that "legitimate" looking phony name you made up.

Better to know in advance.

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