Blockchain Code Names: The Meaning Behind the Monikers

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In the software world, code names are everywhere. You’ve probably noticed that Google names Android updates after desserts (at least, until the latest one), and you might remember when Apple named OSX releases after wild cats. If you’re a Linux fan, you probably know that Debian releases are named after Toy Story characters.

Many blockchain code names follow similar patterns.

Of course, not all naming schemes are well-known, which highlights the importance of a well-chosen one. In a best-case scenario, code names can build hype for upcoming products. In a worst case scenario, they can be incomprehensible or inconsistent—described by some critics as a “mental tax” for confused customers.

Blockchains frequently undergo major upgrades that can attract attention for weeks or months, meaning that a project’s code name may be in the news cycle for just as long. Code names don’t always make it through to the public, but when they do, they need to be good.


Location, Location, Location

Some projects use places in their naming scheme. For example, Nomadic Labs, a Tezos group, named the blockchain’s first upgrade “Athens.” It has suggested that future upgrades follow this model alphabetically: “City names provide a wide set to choose from for each letter, with even a bit of room to express things,” the group explains.

Elsewhere, Ethereum is in the middle of its Metropolis series, a group of upgrades named after a theme: in Ethereum’s naming sequence and in real-life history, “Byzantium” became “Constantinople,” which in turn became “Istanbul.” Ethereum is, however, breaking with tradition for Ethereum 2.0, which is currently codenamed “Serenity.”

Ethereum’s testnets, on the other hand, have code names based on lesser-known locations. Its Ropsten testnet seems to be named after a cape on the coast of Stockholm, Sweden. Plus, Ethereum also has “Morden,” “Olympia,” and “Kovan” testnets, seemingly named after locations in Manitoba, Greece, and Singapore respectively.

Ethereum Classic is fond of fantasy locations: “Atlantis” was the namesake for its most recent upgrade, while Middle Earth’s Mordor is the name of its latest testnet.

(Ethereum Classic hasn’t been afraid to branch out, though: when it disabled its difficulty bomb, it named the upgrade “Die Hard” in reference to the film franchise’s bomb plots.)


Getting Names Down to a Science

Some projects have taken inspiration from science, mathematics, and the arts. Cardano, for example, has named its roadmap after historical poets and scientists. Right now, the project is coming off of its “Byron” phase and entering its “Shelley” phase—named after Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, two Romantic poets of the 1800s.

Cardano’s future phases will be named after the computer scientist Joseph Goguen, the haiku master Matsuo Bashō, and the Enlightenment figure Voltaire. Plus, Cardano’s cryptocurrency (ADA) is named after an English mathematician and computer pioneer, Ada Lovelace (incidentally, the daughter of Lord Byron), and there are even development teams named after mathematicians.

Meanwhile, Monero’s choices have a technobabble feel: its code names come from science-related terms and individuals. One recent Monero version was called “Hydrogen Helix,” while another was called “Wolfram Warptangent” (after the Monero contributor warptangent, who passed away in 2016, and the physicist Stephen Wolfram).

Zcash, finally, draws inspiration from the natural world. Its naming scheme is based on plant growth: it has progressed from “Sprout” to “Sapling,” and it is now moving into the “Blossom” stage. This is a vivid naming scheme that doesn’t require any trivia knowledge—though it may reach a dead end when Zcash is fully-grown.


Can Code Names Ever Be Iconic?

Sapling, Shelley, and Serenity appear to be very successful blockchain code names—not as well known as their core project, but recognizable nonetheless. These three names are gaining traction as search terms—at least enough to show up on Google Trends. Since most other blockchain code names don’t even register, that’s a real distinction.

 

Blockchain code name popularity, via Google Trends

 

Of course, these names also represent big developments. Ethereum Serenity and Cardano Shelley will both introduce staking, while Zcash Sapling has already introduced highly efficient private transactions. Even though these well-known code names seem to have real appeal, the products behind them may be driving their recognition.

In any case, code names can be an important part of branding. Whereas some blockchains have chosen to undergo all-out rebrands, code names can serve as a testing ground. Projects rarely stick to one naming scheme forever, meaning that they are a way to temporarily reinvent one’s image—and see how the crypto community responds.