The unchosen ones


The challenge: Come up with a name for the new online community (now known, rather colorlessly, as the University of Chicago Online Community): aka The grand prize: A University of Chicago alumni study trip to Iceland, India, or Spain. The contestants: UChicago alumni, family, and friends. The entries: More than 3,200.

The rules stated clearly that employees were not eligible, but several entered anyway. Perhaps these rule-breakers thought if they won, they would quit and start a new life in Iceland, India, or Spain. But none of their renegade suggestions made the top ten.

And now—drum roll, please—the shortlist, as chosen by the (also colorlessly named) Naming Committee:

  • Alumni & Friends
    Submitted by Alumni Board of Governors
  • Chicago Connect
    Submitted by Narong Silpathamtada, AB’96
  • Chicago Continuum
    Submitted by Susan Shin, AB’96
  • Connect Chicago
    Submitted by Marlo Del Percio, JD'08
  • World Chicago
    Submitted by Angel Ochoa, AB’08
  • Chicago Compass
    Submitted by Jeffrey Leeb, MBA’00
  • Chicago Connections
    Submitted by Rudolf Perina, AB’67 MBA’08
  • Chicago Exchange
    Submitted by Shariska Petersen, AB’08
  • UChicago Connect
    Submitted by Gregory Van Hyfte, AM’02
  • YouChicago
    Submitted by David Candland, AB’96

A distinguished list, to be sure. But let’s take a moment to contemplate the road not taken, and perhaps indulge in a bit of amateur psychology: What, for example, does it mean that someone thought the best possible name for the online community was Wrong Side of the Bed?

As expected from this crowd, there were plenty of learned/obscure suggestions, often supplied with background for the not-so-learned, such as Bensozia, "16th-century Italian dialect word that means ‘the good society’”; Confero, "which is Latin for 'to bring together, put together, collect' and likewise 'to discuss, debate, confer’”; and Clio, "muse of history, since alumni are connected through their collective experience of the University."

Equally expected, there were names that revealed (reveled in?) a certain bookish self-deprecation: Awkward Online, Nerds Haven, e-Dorks, iAwkward, Magna Geekia, MegaDorks, NerdSpace, Nerdvana, Talk Nerdy To Me, Ugly Duckling, and the activist-sounding There was also unresolved anger (I Blame You) and abiding loneliness (Marooned—a suggestion submitted by 22 different people).

Some names were cute, such as Lyceum Squirrelly, and so clever that they needed to be explained, like Ciao! "alternate characters in Chicago or UChicago."

Some explanations were so long that they trailed off mysteriously: "NetQuads would be a good name since ‘Net’ denotes being ‘online’ or ‘having to do with the internet,’ while the ‘Quads’ are known to be...” Known to be what? Square? Or “Chicago Rocks—where rocks can be used in many ways—as various acronyms such as Reconnect on Online Community with Knuckleheads and S...” Squares again? I guess we’ll never know.

There were addresses, but on a campus as sprawling as Chicago’s, which one to pick? Suggestions included 53rd & University, 57ellis, 57th & University, 57th & Woodlawn, 58th & Ellis, 58th & Greenwood, 59th & Ellis, and the metaphorical 57th & Counting and 57th & Net.

There were in-jokes like Dead Fun Society, DARKwithEVERYTHINGandFRIES, Off-Offline, and Shake Day Everyday, as well as in-jokes that were so in they were inexplicable: Binky and Dogs Eating Bicycles.

There were 1970s schlock-culture double-entendres—DeepQuote, AfterMaroon Delight—as well as a few more contemporary salacious suggestions: UC Hookup, CThrough, and where the only thing that goes down are the servers.

Interestingly—back to amateur psychology again—many suggestions seemed to conflate the business school with the entire University of Chicago. There were several Chicago Booth-based suggestions (Booth buddies, Boothanza, Boothorama, NetBooth) and names that might offend graduates of certain other departments and professional schools (Milton’s Hangout, The Free Market, Invisible Hands, Free Lunch, and the longer/shorter version of that, TANSTAAFL).

What does it mean that only Chicago Booth graduates seem susceptible to this kind of egocentricity? Hmmmmm.

There were the names of the famous: Barack, Bellow, Belushi, Dewey, Fermi, Goodspeed, Mikva, Stagg, and Harper, who also inspired Harper Valley, Harper’s Army, Harper’s Folly, Harpies, and Harpoons. (A quiz for alumni: which one of the above did NOT teach at the University of Chicago? If your answer was anything other than Belushi, please return your degree to 5801 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago 60637.)

There was the cynical (Donation House) and the blunt (I Want That Trip!).

There was one from someone who still seems confused about what his or her alma mater is called: u I c.

And then there was my personal favorite, Bookface. It didn’t even make the shortlist. It’s scholarly sounding yet also kind of smart-alecky, like the term What’s-his-face for someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

A younger, hipper colleague pointed out that while she liked the suggestions that played off existing names (Chitter, CobbWeb), how long would those names still be relevant? Hardly anyone uses the term World Wide Web anymore, and who remembers sites like Friendster? In which case UChicago’s online community is stuck forevermore with the equivalent of Maxbeta.

Not to bias the vote or anything.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

September 22, 2009