6 minute read · Published November 2, 2023

Does what you name your chatbot make a difference? Should you name it at all?

Latest Update May 10, 2024

AI chatbots have created a paradigm shift in how humans interact with machines. With a relatively newfound form of interaction comes the added layer of naming these AIs. But is this decision strategic or just a mere gimmick?

In this story, we’ll look to uncover the implications of naming AI chatbots, the influence of anthropomorphism, the legal maze surrounding these decisions, and anecdotes behind the best and worst-named ones. 

Anthropomorphism and its implications 

Anthropomorphism is the act of attributing human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It's why we name our cars, plants, and now, our AI chatbots. But why do we feel the need to personify machines, and should you?

The human tendency to anthropomorphize stems from our innate desire to understand and relate to the world around us. By assigning human characteristics to inanimate objects or abstract concepts, we make them more familiar and approachable. This cognitive process has deep evolutionary roots. Our ancestors, in their quest for survival, needed to quickly discern the intentions of other living beings—whether they were friends or foes. By anthropomorphizing, they could predict behaviors and navigate social interactions more effectively. 

Fast forward to today, and while we no longer need to determine if a rustling bush hides a predator or prey, our brains still use this age-old mechanism to make sense of complex systems and technologies. In the realm of AI, anthropomorphism helps bridge the gap between cold, logical machines and the warm, emotional humans who use them. By giving machines names, personalities, or even “emotions,” we create a more intuitive user experience, fostering a sense of connection and trust.     

The cream of the crop and the epic flops: The best-named AI chatbots 

Siri

Siri is short, sweet, and rolls off the tongue. It's like the tech world's version of "Cher" or "Beyoncé." No last name needed. Siri also sounds eerily similar to "Sirius," the brightest star in our night sky. Serendipity or strategy?

Remember when everyone tried to make Siri say funny things like "Siri, will you marry me?"It's hard to imagine pulling the same stunt with a name like "Automated Response Unit 6000."

Cortana

Cortana sounds sophisticated, like a mysterious woman from a spy movie. 

cortana from halo

In fact, Microsoft named its chatbot "Cortana" after an AI character from the company's popular "Halo" video game series. In the games, Cortana is an AI who assists the protagonist, Master Chief, providing him with vital information, strategic guidance, and even a bit of banter. By naming their digital assistant after this character, Microsoft was drawing a parallel between the game's AI, known for her intelligence and resourcefulness, and their real-world AI designed to assist users with their tasks. 

It also served as a nod to the fans of the "Halo" series, creating a sense of familiarity and continuity between the game world and the real world.

Watson

Named after IBM's founder, Thomas J. Watson, this title is both classic and evocative of the world's most famous detective's sidekick. Just as Dr. Watson was always ready with insights for Sherlock, IBM's Watson is ever-prepared to assist with its encyclopedic knowledge.

Copilot

'Copilot' is like the 'John Smith' of the AI chatbot universe, but with a techy, aviator hat on. This moniker is everywhere, from GitHub's code-assisting tool to Microsoft's latest launch. One might wonder why it's become so omnipresent. The answer lies in the name itself—trustworthy, collaborative, and assuring. When you hear 'Copilot,' you instantly envision something (or someone) sharing the cockpit with you, guiding you through turbulence, be it in code or customer service. It says, 'Hey, I got your back!' without the cringe.

The term is not just popular; it's universally loved. So, it should come as no surprise that we chose it for our latest release. If you can't beat the allure of a name that's both nostalgic and futuristic, you might as well join the fleet.

HuggingChat

A play on the popular AI model library "Hugging Face," HuggingChat brings a touch of warmth and humanity to the world of artificial intelligence that can oftentimes be seen as cold and lacking emotion. Who said machines can't be cuddly?  

Special mention: Alexa 

Alexa is friendly, approachable, and sounds like the girl next door. It's a name that invites conversation. Rumor has it that the name was inspired by the ancient Library of Alexandria,  one of the most famous libraries of the ancient world, known for its vast collection of knowledge. 

The worst-named AI chatbots 

Eugene Goostman  

The chatbot with a name that sounds like he might be the protagonist in a 19th-century Russian novel. Designed in 2001 to mimic a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, we can't help but wonder if he's also hiding a stash of pre-teen angst. 

While the backstory’s quirky, the name doesn't scream, "I'm a tech-savvy AI!" Instead, it whispers, "I might know a thing or two about Tolstoy." For the tech crowd expecting a futuristic bot, Eugene might just leave them expecting a quill-written letter instead.

Seva (ConvertKit)

While this is not technically an AI chatbot, it still underlines how naming failures can result in disaster: "Seva" was an aborted ConvertKit rebrand. They tried to bring some ancient Sanskrit vibes to the email marketing party. Meaning "selfless service," it's a noble sentiment, but not really for an email tool, and while the intention might’ve been pure, it missed the cultural sensitivity memo. 

convertkit announcing not moving ahead with seva name change

Many people in South Asian communities felt that using a sacred and spiritual term for a commercial product was inappropriate. What’s more, for an email marketing tool, the name "Seva" doesn't provide any indication of what it does. A good chatbot name should be both respectful of cultural contexts and indicative of its purpose. ConvertKit caught the drift and moonwalked back to its original name. "Seva" now stands as a testament to the age-old wisdom: Always tune into cultural nuances before taking the stage!     

Clippy

While not a chatbot per se, Clippy, the paperclip with eyebrows that became the stuff of tech legends, seemed like a cute and apt name for a digital assistant shaped like a paperclip. 

While paperclips are great for holding papers together, they're not exactly the go-to tool for offering advice on your resume or love letter. The otherwise catchy name inadvertently set the tone for an assistant that was more decorative than functional. It's like having a rubber duck named "Quacky" trying to help you with your taxes. Cute? Absolutely. Helpful? Not so much. The name "Clippy" became synonymous with unsolicited advice, and many users found themselves thinking, "Thanks, Clippy, but I've got this!" We’ve got receipts, too. 

ChatGPT (...ok, maybe not, but kind of)

Need we say more? 🤭

Choosing the right name 

Now that you’ve got an idea of what good and bad names might look like, what are some other things to consider when choosing a name for your AI companion?

  • Trademarks and copyrights. While names, titles, short phrases, and slogans are typically not eligible for copyright protection, associated elements like design, voice, and logo can be. Still, trademarks play a crucial role. They ensure that your chatbot's identity remains distinct and legally protected, allowing it to stand out and operate without the looming threat of legal disputes. 
  • Simplicity is key. Remember, the best names often have a ring to them and are easy to pronounce. If your users need a linguistics degree to say your AI's name, you might want to rethink it.
  • Test the waters: Before finalizing a name, get feedback. Run some focus groups or surveys. Sometimes, outsiders can spot potential pitfalls or misinterpretations that you might have missed. 
  • Think global: If you're aiming for a global audience, ensure the name doesn't have unintended meanings in other languages. Ensure it reflects your brand’s identity, is memorable, and is culturally sensitive. Don’t be like ConvertKit.
  • Avoid overused terms: While it might be tempting to slap "Bot," "AI," or "Cyber" onto everything, try to think outside the binary box. A unique name can set your AI apart in a sea of digital doppelgängers. 

Conclusion

In the grand scheme of things, naming an AI chatbot might seem like a trivial task compared to something like building an AI chatbot (though that's getting easier too). But as we've seen, it's a decision that can make or break the user experience. Whether it's Siri serenading us with her sassy comebacks or Eugene Goostman reminding us of our high school literature class, names matter. 

They shape perceptions, evoke emotions, and can either draw users in or push them away. So, the next time you're on the brink of naming your digital offspring, remember: It's not just about branding—it's about building a relationship.

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