Some random thoughts on naming conventions

Something recently made me think about product naming conventions. It seems to me you can start off with a really nifty naming convention, but after a while, it gets so cluttered with exceptions and new products that it doesn’t work anymore, and then you have to throw out the whole thing and start again.

Take, for instance, Epic Kayaks. Now I’m not 100% sure of the history, but I believe their first surf ski was the V10, and their second was the V10 Sport. Calling it “Sport” didn’t make a ton of sense because the V10 Sport is actually a less capable surf ski, but was wider and more stable to appeal to a less elite audience. To me, “Sport” usually implies a faster or more capable model, like the “Sport” model of many cars that maybe has more horsepower and gripper tires, or maybe just go-faster stripes and a manual gearbox. They also have a V10L which was at the time just a low-volume version of the V10. I believe they’ve redesigned it since then to be more of its own boat specifically for lighter paddlers.

But since that time, they’ve added the V12 and V14, each of which is narrower and less stable (and faster) than the previous, and then the V8, V7, and V5, which are increasingly more stable and slower as the number decreases. Then they made a boat that was sort of intermediate between the V8 and the V10 Sport (which was already intermediate between the V8 and the V10) and found themselves naming it the V8 Pro. Not as bad a decision as the use of “Sport” in the V10 Sport, because it does imply something faster than the V8, and it is. But still an obvious shoe-horn into a naming convention that was already under stress.

Then this year they demoed a boat that had the same width as a V12 but which was shorter (shorter even than the V10 Sport) to handle short period waves. When they were demoing it, they were calling it the V12M. And that wasn’t a horrible name because really I think it was designed to be “like a V12, but only for specific conditions”. But then they announced it officially as the V11. That to me implies something faster than the V10 and slower than the V12, and it probably actually is.

But I think their number system is getting crowded. It mostly works that the higher the number, the narrower, longer and faster the boat is. But there are exceptions. The space between the V8 and the V10 has two boats, neither of which is called the V9. There are three boats that are called “V10” (ignoring the V10 Double for a second), with pretty different characteristics. People confuse the V10 Sport and V10 a lot. There aren’t that many V10Ls around here, so I don’t know if they get confused for V10s a lot.

Epic is going to continue to design new boats. Some of them are going to be brought to market. I think sooner rather than later they’re going to have to throw out the whole “V number” system, and either just bring in new boats with a different designation or maybe even redesignate the whole fleet.

Naming conventions are tricky. I like that a person can broadly tell whether an Epic boat is more elite or less elite just by the name. I can’t tell anything about, say, the Fenn boats because they use proper nouns instead of numbers. But on the other hand, as long as Fenn designers can think names, they’re never going to have this problem.

At least they aren’t doing stuff like the computer hardware world, where you get horrendous long names with numbers and letters in riotous abandon. I’ve got an HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium printer. That name doesn’t tell me anything about its capabilities or how it stacks up against the OfficeJet J6000 or the OfficeJet L7000 or anything else in the HP printer line.

I’m reminded of the software world. Basically, most software uses monotonically increasing version numbers, usually with a minor and maybe a semi-minor version number as well, and you know that a change in major number probably means something significant and a change in semi-minor is probably invisible. So macOS 10.12.6 is obviously newer than macOS 10.12.5 and possibly just fixes some bugs, but it probably has some feature changes from macOS 10.11.1.

Windows started off with monotonically increasing numbers (Windows 1, 2, 3.11) and then switched to the last two digits of the year (being the only people I know stupid enough to set yourself up for a Y2K problem with only 5 years left to go) with Windows 95 and 98, broke the convention with Windows 98SE and Windows ME, then looked like they were going back to it with Windows 2000. But then they switched to names that meant nothing (XP) and then back to numbers for Windows 7 and 8, but due to problems caused by lazy programmers in 95 and 98, had to skip Windows 8 and go directly to Windows 10. Ugh, what a mess!

One piece of software I used way back in the day was a dBase III compiler called “Clipper”. I used to love the fact that their naming convention was actually the season and year of release, so Winter ’84 was followed by Summer ’85, etc. Good, because it was easy to tell if the version you found on the shelf was newer than the one you were using. But people evidently didn’t like it, because for their 6th release, they switched to calling it “Clipper 5.00” (yes, it was the 6th release – I guess that means they started from 0) and then “5.01”, then “5.01 Rev 129” because who needs consistency? Although looking at Wikipedia, it’s possible that people didn’t like the seasonal names because they lied a lot. “Summer ’87” was released on 21 December 1987.

So I guess what I’m saying is I’m glad I don’t have to name stuff because my OCD would want the names to tell you something, but I’d also want to leave room for fill in products without breaking the convention, but at the same time be memorable and not confusing.

One Reply to “Some random thoughts on naming conventions”

  1. In my first job after college, i worked on a system that replaced an older system that ran on IBM 1800 computers. The running joke was that they were called that because that’s when they were designed.

    That same employer’s main product line was something called “Series 2000”. I know the 2000 seemed very futuristic when the system was first implemented in the late 80s, but I was surprised they kept the name after the year 2000 came and went.

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