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My Trouble with Names

I’m bad with names.

No, not that way. I’m fine with remembering peoples’ names. Well, above average. Probably.

I’m bad at coming up with names. At naming things.

The earliest instance of this I remember was when I was about 10 and was playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. We’d come up with characters, and a few of them would persist for a while. The one I kept the longest had the deeply evocative name of… Seggerillon.

(He was a wizard.)

I probably haven’t written that name since I was 13 and geez, it looks even dumber than I remembered. Just a bunch of syllables stuck together, and it doesn’t even scan well. Okay, in my defense I was 10. But still.

This has extended into other parts of my life. For example, my two journals, both with names I’ve never been very happy with (“Gazing into the Abyss” and “Fascination Place”). I’ve never been able to articulate what I wanted my journals to represent, and I’ve shied away from titles that seemed snarky or dismissive. It’s been over ten years since I started this one and I haven’t yet come up with a name I like better. (Not that it’s been a high priority.)

I also hit this at work, where naming classes and objects is a routine part of the job. Fortunately, most of this involve fairly rote and descriptive names. But coming up with good names for more advanced classes is sometimes a challenge. I sometimes joke that one of the big problems in programming is that many things you create are abstract with only a tenuous connection to anything in the real world, and there are only a relative handful of words for abstract concepts in English compared to the number of words for concrete things. So we always end up with some class which is a BuilderOperationDelegateProviderManagerContext or some subset thereof.

On another note, something I rarely mention here is that I write a little fiction. A very little. So little that I wouldn’t call myself a writer. One of my problems is that I have trouble coming up with names for characters, especially since what I really want to write is far-future science fiction, where the names might arguably have a tenuous connection with names in today’s world. I like to think I’ve advanced a little beyond Seggerillon, though. I have a couple of names in my quiver that I’ve carried through a couple of story concepts looking for the right one. (And waiting for me to actually start writing one of them.)

Anyway, as they say, there are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things. At least I’m good at invalidating all the caches.

Middle Age

The last couple of years I’ve been feeling more keenly that I’m middle-aged.

I guess it started a decade or so ago when a cow-orker of mine observed that he remembered watching Babylon 5 when he was in junior high school, whereas I was halfway through graduate school when it premiered.

Since then time has marched inexorably onwards. Most of my cow-orkers are between the ages of 30 and 40, which puts them in average half a generation younger than me. It’s enough that our cultural touchstones are just a little askew: I saw Star Wars in the theatre when it came out, while they mostly watched it on cable growing up. They grew up playing Nintendo and Sega game consoles, while I had left game consoles behind by then and was playing Apple ][ and Mac games. One of them was visibly surprised that I was born in the 60s. And, my career at Apple is almost 19 years old, which means there’s a real chance that I’ll soon have a cow-orker – an intern, perhaps – who was born after I started working there.

(This is not at all to disparage my younger cow-orkers, who I learn things from all the time!)

As I’ve been feeling these differences in age, though, I’ve started making quips about our relative ages from time to time. Some of the jokes are rooted in these different touchstones, and others are more generally about my age (“Pipe down sonny or I’ll whack you with my cane” types of jokes). It’s not that I feel old – in a lot of ways I feel better than I did 20 years ago – but it’s like I have a new perspective that I haven’t had before, and which feels weird.

I’ve been feeling a little – something, guilty? Unjustified? – in making these jokes. I don’t necessarily believe that talking this way is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it’s been making me a little uneasy. So my plan – my resolution, if you will – is not to make jokes like those this year. There’s a gray area, since I don’t think it’s feasible for me to just ignore or never mention these differences, but to the extent that not talking about them leads to me not thinking about or feeling being middle-aged, I think that’s a good thing.

I’m sure age will announce itself to me in due time, without any help from me.