I was a bit surprised when, as I was driving in the car with my sister, Bonnie, she said she didn't know the name of one of my dearest friends. This constant companion had been virtually everywhere with me -- by my side on the way to my wedding, riding along during countless trips to the beach, even accompanying me on a 12-hour trek from D.C. to Nashville. Yet despite ours years-long relationship, Bonnie wasn't even aware of her name.
"Clarissa, I said, "her name's Clarissa."
"Clarissa? Why Clarissa?" my sister asked.
I rolled my eyes and replied, "Because she explains it all. You know, like the 90's Nickelodeon show, Clarissa Explains it All? Clarissa tells me exactly where I need to go." Clarissa, of course, is my GPS unit.
I'm apparently not alone in giving one of my gadgets a human name. Bonnie dubbed her navigation system "Roger." She says it sounded like a "good British butler name." There's even a Facebook page and numerous other sites devoted to the practice. The "giving your GPS a name and referring to it as a person" page on Facebook (no points for creativity with THAT name) has nearly 1,000 fans. One Facebook user's post explains the moniker of choice for his GPS: "Mine is Gertie, unless we're fighting... then she's Gertrude." Another message on the page mourns the loss of a plugged-in pal with a pet name:
I just lost my dearly beloved Frederick Victor. He mapped his last route straight to GPS Heaven. He is survived by his sister Matilda (my best friends [sic] gps). He will be missed for his 'recalculating route' tricks and his 'make next legal u turn' antics. RIP my little handheld buddy!
BlackBerry user, Evan_O, created a forum on www.crackberry.com for those who name their devices. He writes that he bestowed the name "Zero" on his smartphone: "We covet them so why not refer to it by name every once in a while. Don't worry I don't approach women and say "hello, my name is Evan and this is Zero."
Dr. Larry Rosen, a California State University psychology professor and author of Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn, says for many people, a gadget is more than just an electronic appliance: "People spend 24/7 with [smartphones] - more time than even their spouses, families, or anyone else...they're connected socially through their phones to the whole world." Rosen calls assigning a name to technological gizmos a sign of the times: "Up until now, the only thing people really have named is their car. Now, all of the sudden, you have all these gadgets that aren't as important as your car - they're maybe even more important."
But not everyone's a fan of tagging their tech tools with human names. User freeza posted on an Android forum, "Seriously? Who names their electronics???" And another user, erichg1000, wrote on the same page, "I call my phone a phone like normal people who aren't fat nerds who drink diet mountain dew all the time." I contest that -- my drink of choice, especially when I'm behind the wheel, is Diet Pepsi. And Clarissa can back me up on that one.
Follow Judy Kurtz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JudyKurtz