re What kind of names do you make up?

Subject: re What kind of names do you make up?
From: "Mark L. Levinson" <mark -at- MEMCO -dot- CO -dot- IL>
Date: Sun, 13 Jun 1999 17:24:46 +0200

At my last place of employment, the company lawyer ended the
publication of writers' bylines. Suppose a writer leaves the
company and turns hostile, he said. The writer could try to
make trouble if we left the name on, or try to make trouble if
we took it off.

The same could be said for writer names used in examples.

As supervisor of the writers, I was happy to axe the bylines,
but for another reason: the crediting of individual writers
discourages teamwork. Why should one writer help another to untangle
a knotty sentence or to work around a word-processor bug if all the
credit is going to the recipient of the help? In a book that's a
collaboration, who gets top billing? And what about a book written
by one writer and revised by another?

It's better to quash those extra worries about the writerly ego;
and again, that goes for examples as well as for bylines. Once
writers start inserting their names into the books, you may have
an extra arena for competition and resentment; even the programmers
may get into the act.

So what about facetious names? Well, Maurice Rose puts it clearly:
"when the product is difficult to make sense of, and the guide isn't
helping much - the attempts at humour make me want to strangle somebody."
You don't want people to think the writers were spending their time
giggling when they should have been concentrating on making the product
comprehensible. And you'd be surprised how many people fail to realize
that not having a sense of humor is their own fault.

In examples, the humorous name and the writer's or developer's name
have another disadvantage in common. They make your product look
like a prototype. When a name is obviously fictitious, it sends
the message "We are so remote from the real world where this product
is supposedly fit to be used, that to us it's a kind of fantasy."
When it's a name of somebody at the company, you run the risk that
a client, recognizing the name, will get the impression that you are
just a clique bouncing ideas off one another rather than a company
seriously in touch with the market.

No matter what you do, there's the chance that a real person's name
will slip in from the unconscious, or by simple coincidence. For
that reason, our manuals carry a disclaimer saying that names in
examples not intended to represent real people or real companies.

We stay away from rainbow-coalition names because they too are
distracting. We want the attention focused on the product, not on
the variegated ethnicity of the fictitious users. We wish that we
served a utopian market where Mr. Hsu and Ms. Vaskoboinikov were
considered as nondescript as Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones, but so far
neither that happy day, nor the PC police, have arrived at our door...

Mark L. Levinson - Memco Ltd. - Wallenberg 24 - 69719 Tel Aviv - Israel
tel. 03-6450049 (home 09-9552411 or 09-9555720, shoe phone 051-377181)
fax 03-6450001, e-mail mark -at- memco -dot- co -dot- il (home nosnivel -at- netvision -dot- net -dot- il)
Work shouldn't hurt. Fight repetitive strain injuries:
International RSI Awareness Day 29 Feb 2000,

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