Everyone Is Trying to Outdo Each Other With Cute Wi-Fi Names

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Network names have gone from being boring digit chains to another opportunity for personalization, like vanity plates or monogrammed towels. “You name your Wi-Fi so you don’t have to read the overly lengthy digit code and password to visitors, but also to authentically create a moment of levity, to tell your friend something they may not know about you,” said Natalie Zfat, 31, a social media entrepreneur in New York City.

Ms. Zfat equates the importance of Wi-Fi branding to screen names 15 years ago. “There were always people who were straightforward and then others who were much more creative and detail focused,” she said, citing aliases like Flirty4u and Sporty88.

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All the Other Julie Becks and Me

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The string of letters that spell “Julie Beck” are used to represent many wildly different people. They symbolize me, but they also symbolize a nursing professor in Pennsylvania, an attorney in Michigan, and 192 others in my country alone. In the real world, those different meanings have no problem coexisting. Each Julie Beck exists in her own social context, and these contexts rarely, if ever, overlap. But on the internet, they’re all smooshed together. To Google, one Julie Beck is the same as another. (Unless you add some keywords.)

“I think we’re at a funny inflection point where certainly in terms of individual identification in a worldwide system, proper names don’t really make any sense,” says Judith Donath, the author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online, and an adviser at Harvard University.

Governments already identify people with unique numbers, so we don’t need to be able to be identified from our names alone. But names feel more significant now that so much of modern life is textual. Names are our stand-ins, our brands, they do the heavy lifting of symbolizing our selves in places where our bodies aren’t. But often, they aren’t ours alone. And while offline we’re usually distant enough from our name doppelgangers that it doesn’t matter, online we have to share space.

Schooling Siri on Unusual Names

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Like humans, Apple’s virtual assistant can sometimes stumble over names that don’t read the same way they sound when spoken aloud. But as with humans, you can tell Siri the proper pronunciation of the name for future reference.

The next time Siri mangles a name, tap the microphone button and say, “That’s not how you pronounce [Name].” The program should respond with, “O.K., how do you pronounce the name [Name]?” Say the correct pronunciation of your first and last name as clearly as you can.

Siri will then fire back with, “O.K., thank you. Which pronunciation should I use?” and offer a few variations of your first name to play back. After you have listened to the choices, tap Select next to the one you want and then move on to Siri’s attempts to pronounce your last name.