Words & Stuff

DDD: The Name of the Domain Is Mainly for the Vain

(13 February 2000)

Couple years ago, I happened across the Web site for Slashdot for the first time. (Slashdot is a Web newsletter about technology; its tag line is "News for Nerds. Stuff that matters.") I found the content interesting, but my first impression was mostly amusement over the URL, which of course was http://slashdot.org (read that aloud, pronouncing / as "slash" and . as "dot," if you don't see why it's funny). It occurred to me that "Slashdotdot" would be an even better name, since that URL would have three slashes and three dots rather than just three and two. And from there, we started riffing on domain names.

I suggested creating domain names based on existing famous domain names: I could register a domain name and become, for instance, jed@jeddotmicrosoft.com. For more fun with pronounced punctuation, someone might register "atat.com" and become, say, luke@atat.com, or even dot@atat.com. I also suggested the email address ellipsis@dotdot.com.

Arthur replied with these fine suggestions:

atat@dotdot.com (Joe R suggests the similar at@at.dot.com)

Melissa Binde was way ahead of me; she and Jim MacLeod had already spent some time looking around for interesting domain names along these lines, and trying to find out if someone had the email address at@dot.com. Melissa had wanted to register dotdot.org, on the grounds that it would be the best domain name for an organization named "..."

Michael suggested including subdomain names:

dis@dat.dot.com (for the stuttering Brooklyn office)

He also indirectly suggested a Morse code site called dit.dot.com -- or dashdash-dashdashdash.dash.dotdotdot.com, to spell morse, though that somehow doesn't have the same ring to it.

And, he noted, you can treat the @ as part of a word:

(Melissa suggests using the @ for an A, as in m@dhatter.com, or madh@ter.com.)

Some time earlier, back in February '97, the Gag-O-Matic Joke Server had sent out a list of top ten ridiculous host names:

10. dam.mit.edu
9. monarch.butterfly.net
8. gratuitouslylonghostname.apana.org.au
7. drag.net
6. my-hostname-is-longer-than-yours.mit.edu
5. tragically.hip.berkeley.edu
4. dislocated.hip.berkeley.edu
3. ohsaycan.ucc.american.edu
2. huh_huh.fire.com
1. vo.mit.edu

The list claimed that these all exist, or did at the time; not implausible, though there's no way to check most of them from outside the organizations in question.

Country codes provide for some great domain names. Tuvalu has the .tv top-level domain, allowing for domain names like must.see.tv; Tonga has the .to domain, providing an opportunity for names like www.burri.to and the redirection service go.to.

There's an unattributed list circulating in email of (vaguely) amusing email addresses supposedly generated by official policies on forming email addresses. The list starts by noting that organizations often have standard methods for deriving a username from someone's name; one common approach is to use the first six letters of the last name, followed or preceded by the first and middle initial. For example, if Lucius Silas Maurer worked at a certain information site, his username might be maurerls@about.com. And with different username policies, Eleanor Thomas, who serves on the City Council in Baton Rouge, Utah (less famous than its Louisiana namesake) with her older brother Edward, might be et2@br.ut.us. Anyway, the basic concept is very clever, but the specific examples were at about the level of discourse of the old punny-name made-up book titles and authors, like Under the Bleachers by Seymour Butts. None of the examples were particularly printable. So in a perhaps futile effort to keep this column from descending entirely into the gutter, I welcome any clean contributions of such cleverly constructed email addresses. Try to stick to initials-plus-first-six-letters-of-last-name, but any reasonable transformation of a name is acceptable. You get bonus points for using real (relevant) domain names, but fictional ones are okay too. Names of people should be plausible; you may wish to consult the US Census Bureau to see whether anyone in the US actually has the last name you've come up with, though of course that's irrelevant for many non-American names.

A related topic is choices for naming clusters of computers. Organizations generally like to choose computer names that are somehow related to each other; for instance, the Computer Science lab at Swarthmore when I was a student named its Sun workstations after destroyed cities: ilium, tulum, babylon, masada, carthage, thebes, pergamum, byzantium, pompeii, etc. The next set that the department purchased were named after spices: ginger, nutmeg, sage, tarragon, thyme, and so on. There was a great deal of discussion about what the Computing Center should name a new cluster of workstations; diversity was the watchword of the day, and being able to spell and pronounce the names was also important, and there had to be enough names in the set to be able to add more when/if more workstations were purchased. I thought it would be cool to name them after characters from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and even wrote a poem supporting this view, but the final decision was to use types of trees (hemlock, gingko, oak, maple, and so on). The coolest set of computer names I know of comes from my ISP, Pair Networks, which started with Greek letters (alpha, beta, gamma) and, when they ran out of those, proceeded to other alphabets -- including Ogham. I'm going to do a column on Ogham at some point, so I won't go into much detail about it now, but for those who don't know, Ogham was an alphabet used for inscriptions in England and Ireland around 500 AD.

Thanks to Melissa Binde, Joe Robins, Josh Smith, Eiji Hirai, and Sam Weiler for refreshing my memory on the Swarthmore computer names and reminding me about the .to and .tv domains.

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>