May 6, 2004

Machines You Name

Slashdot has a story on scientists and their emotional bonding with space probes.

But I found one of their links in the story interesting… a separate story on how some people name their cars. I know at least two people who read this weblog and have named their cars, so I thought this story might be of interest.

Some scholars who have made mention of automobile anthropomorphism have argued that it is usually an attempt to establish dominance over it. They describe how men give their vehicles female names and refer to them as subservient beings in an effort to show others who is in charge. But more detailed studies of anthropomorphism have argued for a wider variety of motivations. Anthropologist Stewart Guthrie, for instance, has taken a critical look at how various cultures have an anthropomorphic conception of God. He argues that this is a way for people to understand something that is impossible to explain. While I believe that the common interpretation of automobile anthropomorphism is accurate in some instances, the sample of people I interviewed seemed to have a relationship with their automobile that is much better described with Guthrie’s thesis than a relationship of dominance. (Moving Relationships: Befriending the Automobile to Relieve Anxiety - Jameson M. Wetmore)
I try not to name my computer at work. If you treat computers too nicely, they get uppity and take liberties with your data. Mark my words. You have to show machines who’s boss, lest we end up in some distopic crazy future world.
Posted by James at May 6, 2004 8:07 PM
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My Vanessa simply has too much personality not to have a name... she's sleek, beautiful, musical, agile, powerful, and a heck of a lot of fun to drive in. She's got so much personality she has TWO names--"Vanessa" is my affectionate name for her, and "The Purple Rocket" is her nickname.

I believe that your car for some people becomes an extension of yourself. The kind of car you drive says something about you. If drive a glossy black Saab it says one thing, if you drive a beat-to-death Toyota Corolla it says another. That projection of an aspect of yourself into your vehicle may have useful disassociative properties (i.e. Vanessa thinks this icy road is scary.) I've caught myself talking to my car on slippery roads saying things like "it's okay baby, we're going to be fine". I think in a way I've transferred my fear to the vehicle, and then make myself feel better by talking it out.

Vanessa is the only car I've ever named. I've had cars before that I really liked, but which never got a name. The first car I bought out of college, for example, was a 1985 Honda Civic Wagon, white. I loved that car, but I never named it. My first car ever was a black 1981 Diesel VW Rabbit with a red interior. As I had never had a car before you can imagine how much I loved that car. No name.

So it's not just how much you love your car, it's how much personality it seems to have to you. As the authors of your article suggest James, that personality could come from the "quirkiness" or reliability of the vehicle. I think part of it comes from the look of the vehicle, if it looks freakish, or different, or funky, or funny, or really cool, it might be more deserving of a name. I saw a tricked out Jetta the other day, banana yellow with black racing stripes... the license plate said "KLR BEE". I'm sure the owner gave that car a name. ;-)

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 6, 2004 9:09 PM

I agree -- a car does say a lot about a person, but choose any detail of a person's life and you can divine something. His clothes, vocabulary, accent, hygiene, odor, personal space, tools, medications, computer desktop...

My car says something about me. It says that I want the most reliable car $2K can buy. My odor says I like gin. The dirt on my shoes says I just buried a man on the quarry.

Oops - carried away there.

Posted by: James at May 6, 2004 10:27 PM

My machines have names for Rendezvous browsing, etc. But they aren't allowed to get too attached to them, because when the old hardware is replaced with new, the new hardware gets the name of the previous box, and the previous box is retired or repurposed :-)

Posted by: Jim at May 7, 2004 12:07 AM

I name my car because I have to feed it, we spend a lot of time together, it sings to me, and I put my life in its imaginary figurative hands. But I wouldn't name a computer any more than I would name a spatula!

Posted by: julie at May 7, 2004 9:39 AM
I wouldn't name a computer any more than I would name a spatula!

Agreed. My computer is an 'it' and, barring true artificially intelligent personalities for home computers, always will be.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 7, 2004 11:31 AM

Apparently, I tend to like people who name their cars. An above average number of my friends are car-namers.

Posted by: James at May 7, 2004 12:28 PM

hey, chuck, how did you know what i drive? ;) Penny is a good little car; she gets a bit fussy on damp days, and doesn't like big hills, but she's been very good to me, despite my abuse of her clutch. :)

Posted by: beth at May 7, 2004 4:10 PM

I think he probably threw that in because I used to drive a well-used Corolla. But that car did serve me quite well for a good while... and its next owner.

Posted by: James at May 7, 2004 6:38 PM
hey, chuck, how did you know what i drive? ;) Penny is a good little car; she gets a bit fussy on damp days, and doesn't like big hills, but she's been very good to me, despite my abuse of her clutch. :)

Actually Beth, I had no idea what you drive! I guess I imagined you would drive a sensible wagon of some sort... a subaru maybe. Don't know why I thought that.

"Penny"... that's a great name for a Corolla. It sure beats "Lola"... who would want to own the "Lola Corolla"?

I think he probably threw that in because I used to drive a well-used Corolla.

Not at all. I selected the car I drove before my previous car. It was a white 1991 Corolla sedan, 4 door... with a lot of body rot and no end of problems. It was lousy on slippery roads and was generally a hunk o junk but it got me from place to place. When the gas tank started leaking, I began to tire of it. The heady stink of gas gave me a headache and was unsafe, so I parked the car and stopped using it. Then my wife bought her new car, a forest green two-tone 2002 Subaru Outback wagon, loaded, which she has not named. (Though she takes great umbrage when I refer to it as "The Tank".)

So I got her old car, a 1991 Blue Honda Civic sedan. The rusting corolla I gave to a carless friend of mine who is mechanically gifted. He drove it for awhile but eventually decided not to fix it and had it hauled away. I have never missed the Corolla.

Then late last summer my longtime dream of owning a PT Cruiser became a reality and I traded in the Civic which had began having serious problems... I was very glad the thing actually made it to the dealership before croaking. I have never missed that car either.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 7, 2004 7:32 PM

heh. chuck, that is funnier/more accurate than you might think. i own Penny because i bought her by accident (ask me sometime), and she's served me well. we are, however, looking to supplement her with another car... a Subaru Forester. ;)

you appear to have my automotive dime pegged. :)

Posted by: beth at May 11, 2004 11:49 PM

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