Naming Fictional Technology

A few hours ago, I was going over in my mind the plot of Part 5 of Journey to Ariadne.  As I was thinking, I ran into a little roadblock.  I couldn’t get past it, as I kept thinking about this.  I was trying to think of a good name for a future technology.

Looking back at science fiction of the past, we often have things named transporters, teleporters, warp engines, hyperspace, subspace, communicators, and so on.  I don’t want to repeat those names.

I already have a name for the propulsion system for the ships in Journey to Ariadne.  It even has a slang term for how it’s used.  The system is based on current hypotheses about faster-than-light space travel, although I’m doing a bit of a twist on it.  In Journey to Ariadne, they haven’t quite made FTL speeds yet.  However, the principles are the same.

The thing I was thinking about earlier was a communications system.  It can’t be a simple communicator.  We’ve gone beyond that in the 21st century already.  We have smart phones, which are compact computers that just happen to have phone capabilities.  They are in fact small personal computers with an incredible number of functions.  I need something similar, but advanced enough that they’re much more than what we have now.  I have a design in mind (I may even draw it), but I don’t have a name.  An acronym sounds reasonable, but I have no idea what it could be yet.  Well, I’ll have to brainstorm a lot.

If you write sci-fi, how do you name your futuristic technologies?

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25 thoughts on “Naming Fictional Technology”

  1. Using “smartphone” as a real-life precedent, it’s quite likely that future multi-function devices could be named after just one function.

    I have sometimes just written with a lousy name I knew I wouldn’t keep, and then gone back and changed it later after I thought of a better one.

    For things where each individual example or sub-type needs a name, I like theme naming.

    1. Very true. Just like how we still use the term “car” when referring to automobiles. It comes from carriage, originally horse-drawn carriage, although train cars/carriages are the same name.

  2. People tend to use simple/short terms for things that are ordinary to them. A longer/more complex term would suggest that the technology is still “new and shiny” and that the characters are not yet at the point where they almost take it for granted. Also, naming the tech after the person who invented it MAY suggest that there are not (yet) other versions of it that are not automatically associated with the person who invented the first one.

    Something I dislike reading in science fiction is a long, multi-word name for a piece of tech that has supposedly been around a while and that the characters use every day. Those names would be shortened, at least in conversation, and ought to be shortened in most narration, too. If the full name matters, refer to it by that once, and from then on, the reader will know what you mean when you use the short form: Call it the transdigital Freon converter the first time it is mentioned in narration, but let the characters call it a digifreeze or whatever. (I’m making this up — I have no idea what “transdigital Freon converter” would actually be shortened to, just that it would be shortened.)

    1. Very good point. I try to think of things we use every day, and we rarely say television, telephone, personal computer, compact disc, and so on. It’s always shortened.

  3. For me, the short (mostly) made-up-slang-names do the job. Something that the protagonists are used to use, every day, without consideration. They live their time, love their gadgets. (- like everyone else)
    The traces of plausible theory shine through design and function. That’s apparent. And there’s the in- and output, you know of. Somewhat a “black-box” technology, if you ask me.
    I might lean a bit out of the window here – BUT protagonists do not need to know how everything works. And you don’t need to explain. Even hints or microscopic bread crumbs would suffice, I guess, to lead the reader on a merry chase, of course. Let them do the imagining.

    1. That’s very true. No need to explain everything. I’ve read books where they try to explain everything, and it often comes across as cumbersome and very slow to read. However, my protagonists actually need to know how things work, as they are the designers, scientists, and engineers.

  4. I have the same problem when I write sci-fi stories is trying to come up with technology names that aren’t too similar to already used terms like transporters, etc. I have used various ways of finding new words to name future tech. Here are a few:
    I go to google translate and type in a basic word that means what I want the technology to do. An example would be I go to google translate and type in the word move or talk or speak or fly. Then I go through the various languages and their words for these simple words. Sometimes I get a really cool word and then I alter it just enough so it isn’t the original language and sounds like it could be a real name for a tech.
    A really basic method is the thesaurus. Go to the word you want and look up all possible similar words and simply cobble a new word together or choose a synonym. I haven’t used this since I was young but it worked back then when I wrote simpler things.
    Another method I use is acronyms. Like a communication technology in the future might use (like they did in FarScape) microbes injected into the body that allow the person to understand any other language – thus allowing all characters to communicate regardless of what they speak. On FarScape they are called translator microbes. So you could run with that idea but instead of using the word microbe use vector as that is similar in concept but add its function, say Vector Enabled Communication Technology and then call it VECTs. You get the idea.

    1. Google translate is an interesting idea. And actually, what I’m writing involves many people from different backgrounds and languages, although they use English as a common language. They may name things in their own language.

  5. This is one thing I suck the most at. I end up looking for hours through vague Google searches and loosely related Wikipedia articles to come up with something that’s usually a bad acronym used as the actual name.

  6. It’s a tricky question. It seems to me there are certainly ways NOT to do it – for instance, one of the fastest ways to ‘date’ SF is to add a ‘modern sounding’ qualifier to a name of an existing technology – ‘tri-D television’ used to be a classic in mid-twentieth century SF. In reality, often the tech is subsumed into the name of the device without much issue. Today we have 3D TV’s…and what do we call them? TV.

    One approach is to ask how the ‘naming conventions’ for things in your future society work. Do they create acronyms, US-style, or apply names, British-style? Does the product name become a verb, e.g. ‘to xerox’ something, or ‘hoover’ the floor? Is somebody’s name built in to the tech name – Hoover, again springs to mind.

      1. Thinking about it, I think Heinlein nailed it in ‘Space Cadet’ where he casually dropped in a detail about one of the characters getting a call on his phone, which the guy carried with him. Heinlein just called it a phone…and this in a 1947 story…

          1. Sure did, along with McCoy’s medical bed, Starfleet (which Roddenberry modelled on Heinlein’s Space Patrol) and a lot of other stuff. All the best Trek tech seems to have come from Heinlein… 🙂

  7. You could go back to old words for new uses – a tablet used to be a writing pad before it became a pill… before it became a writing pad and much more again! Or Thomas’s idea on the transdigital Freon something would end up being a Tfree or Tfer.

    In my worlds I tend to assume that society has gone through a number of technology cycles, so I never worry whether they’re actually backward in some respects and more advanced in others.
    I just found out about hepatic technology (or is it heptactic?) and am busy using hep-things in my latest draft!

    Good luck!

    1. Ah, tablets. That goes all the way back when we used actual slate tablets to write on. Well, even further than that. It was just stone tablets that we carved characters into. Now it’s touch screen. That is one old name.

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