I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The misnaming tic

People frequently screw up names in the same ways.

Mac often becomes “MAC”. I don’t know why. Names of other computer-related products aren’t usually accidentally capitalized. Nobody says ITUNES or EXCEL.

The iPod Touch1 gets hit hard, too, by people calling it the “iTouch”. These are often knowledgeable people — even Don Norman called it that in this great talk about design and attention to detail. Nobody has ever said iMini or iNano or iVideo — in fact, people would look at you funny if you asked them if they had seen your iNano anywhere — but “iTouch” has nearly become the universally recognized name for the iPod Touch.

I get it all the time with my own name. “Hi, I’m Marco.” Easy, right? Within minutes of meeting me, it’ll often be screwed up as “Marcus”. Fine, Marco is an uncommon name in the U.S., and these people probably haven’t met any others. But isn’t it likely that they haven’t met anyone named Marcus either? And why Marcus? They never call me by any other incorrect names. Just that one.

Maybe these common, consistent mistakes are like a mental “snap to grid” feature, because people are wired to remember names in certain ways. When something is misaligned according to our norm, we have a very hard time getting it right and will predictably screw it up in the same way at a large scale. And these norms seem largely disconnected from education levels or demographics, suggesting more universal traits of how we remember and process names.

If this is true, I wonder if there’s a way to predict and avoid these cognitive misalignments when naming new things.

  1. Yes, I know it’s officially capitalized as “iPod touch” by Apple. I consider that a stylized trademark for which non-Apple writers need to apply more normal styling, like substituting “Macy’s” for the technically correct “macy*s”. ↩︎