Tips For Naming Computers

Tips from our experience living with the NamesGivenToComputers...

See also RFC-1178 ( for advice; RFC-2100 ( for a nifty poem; NameSpace and the not so applicable SystemOfNames.
One very common name I found searching through an old dns cache is OEMCOMPUTER. -- JohnFletcher

At an American subsidiary of a French company, the main servers were named after French cities, causing no end of confusion when someone would say they couldn't reach Paris and it was assumed to be an external problem.

These guidelines don't help in deciding how to name a computer; they only suggest what not to do.

Q: The above guidelines seem to preclude the assignment of a "meaningful" name to a machine. If you can't name the machine based upon who owns it, where it is, or what it is used for, then it seems that you have to just choose a random word and make people guess which machine goes with which name. Is that right, and does that make sense?

A1: Pick simple names from a large set of familiar objects. Animals (giraffe, lion, etc.) are one such set. For new installs on workstations, let the owner pick a name from the set. Humans seem to be able to remember the association between familiar objects and the a computer's purpose, location, and owner far better than one might suppose.

One corp. I worked at used musical instruments. That worked well. On the other hand I worked for a small dept. whose manager was a Classics PhD dropout. Agamemnon and Menelaus don't work well.

A2: In some places, when a machine's owner changes or when it is put into service in a new role, the machine's hard drives get wiped and the operating system gets re-installed. It is easy to assign it a new name and a new IP address at this time. In those places, renaming computers when their roles change is usually not a big deal.

A3: Yes. The point is to avoid giving a machine a canonical name that has meaning because that meaning probably won't stay with that machine. Humans, however, do not have to guess what names goes with what computer because humans shouldn't be using the canonical names. Instead, you set up meaningful aliases, which the humans use. (Each machine has a physical label with its conanical name for those times when you really need to know which name goes with which machine.)

e.g.: A small company has three servers: huey, duey, and luey. They have the aliases mail, cvs, intranet, and devdb assigned appropriately. When IT decides to move CVS from duey to luey, it doesn't cause a hassle because everyone configured CVSROOT to point to "cvs" instead of "duey". IT merely moves the alias along with the repository and the change is transparent. Coming up with millions of other scenarios of how such a scheme can make life easier is left as an exercise for the reader.

On naming from possession: I started at a company, using a computer named Don, which Don had used but Don had left so it was easy to remember that AnonymousCoward's machine was Don. No one was sure what would break if we renamed it.

Of course, Don came back to work. So his new machine was not named Orange or Panda or Neptune, but of course Donald.

Some of the assumptions of RFC 1178 (see reference at page bottom) are invalid in some environments.

In our datacenter we have about 1000 servers used by at least a dozen other groups. Our naming policy is [mode][group][role][number][interface], where mode is an optional tag indicating the status of the server (test/dev/qa/...), the next three are required, and interface is optional. This leads to ugly names like tsecsreg01f. However, we rebuild servers from scratch whenever anything their names refer to change, so it makes sense for us.

Most of the advice here is good, but it's also important to pick a standard and implement it consistantly.
At my previous job, our servers were named after constellations. So we had Taurus and Orion and Aquarius and Gemini etc.
Remember that, at least in DNS, you have canonical names and aliases. Aliases are a lot easier to change. I suggest having a "silly name" as the canonical name, and using aliases for functions or services. Imagine a small office with an animal naming scheme. Your mailserver has the canonical name "snail", and the alias "mail". You have everyone's mail clients pointing to "mail", not "snail". Now, if you bring in a bigger system ("hippo") and want to move the mail service over there, you can set it up, tell DNS that "mail" is now an alias for "hippo" rather than "snail", and everybody automatically starts going to hippo for mail rather than snail. Similarly, Joe Schmo has a machine canonically named "barracuda", aliased to "jschmo". When Joe leaves and you hand the computer to new hire Debbie Wayne, you drop the "jshmo" alias and make "dwayne" a new alias for "barracuda". Taken to the extreme, this allows users to publish their own services, hosted on their own machines, and eventually transfer them to dedicated servers.

See NamesGivenToComputers (humorous and otherwise)

Libes, D., "Choosing a Name for Your Computer", Communications of the ACM, Vol. 32, No. 11, Pg. 1289, November 1989.

RFC 1178 - Choosing a name for your computer
There is a full wiki containing all sorts of naming schemes and tips for naming computers and networked equipment.

Network Naming Schemes (



Users don't memorize things like W94L12 for hostnames. My network guy and say down and thought about how humans work... We want the users to remember their hostname for support and asset tracking purposes. All workstations are named off of this list: ( Some examples are: Libra, Drawer, Fiction, Dipstick, Chord, Guitar, etc. Incredibly, the users remember their hostname 100% of the time. It even started a joke around the office where the users were calling each other by their hostnames as real-world nicknames. They're so easy to remember than I have about 50 user's hostnames memorized because I associate a physical thing with a person.


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