If you’ve ever used the internet, you’ve come across a customized Wi-Fi name, from “I Believe I Can Wi-Fi” or “Abraham Linksys.” You probably don’t pay much attention to them aside from trying to find one that works. But according a piece Hilary Sheinbaum wrote in The New York Times aptly titled “Everyone Is Trying to Outdo Each Other With Cute Wi-Fi Names,” we’ve entered a Twilight Zone-esque world where your network name shares a story about your deepest self. (Or just your ability to come up with an internet-related pun. Verdict is still out.)
Sheinbaum likened customized Wi-Fi names to today’s version of “vanity plates or monogrammed towels,” and interviewed a variety of people including social media entrepreneur Natalia Zfat on the topic. Zfat told Sheinbaum that people personalize their Wi-Fi partly to avoid having to spell out unmemorable number and letter strings to house guests (which is fair enough—we’ve all been there). Leah Potkin, who works for the parking reservation app SpotHero, agreed. She told Sheinbaum that she felt judged by visitors due to how annoying it was to walk them through her many-lettered internet login. (Pro tip: maybe don’t hang out with people who judge you based on your Wi-Fi network name.)
Others though, are wielding their Wi-Fi naming with a sense of civic duty, all in the name of keeping people offline. Sheinbaum also interviewed Ruairi Curtin, co-owner of the Upper East Side, Manhattan bar Penrose, where the Wi-Fi is named after their L.L.C “so it’s not easily found by patrons,” he told Sheinbaum. “We want the bar to be a social place for good old conversation, not where people get buried in their technical devices,” he said.
Keeping people out of your network—and in Curtin’s case, assuming patrons are talking to each other instead of using data to scroll through Instagram—is what most people have in mind with their network nomenclature. But for some people, like Zfat, Wi-Fi naming seems like an exercise in proving your creative prowess. Zfat told Sheinbaum that naming is a way to “authentically create a moment of levity, to tell your friend something they may not know about you.” I don’t know what type of stories Zfat’s friends have been telling about themselves via their Wi-Fi lately (SurpriseI’mAGreatDancer?) but the concept of Wi-Fi naming even vaguely resembling authenticity or a deep self-revelation seems hard to believe.
“It’s an extension of how you want your home to be perceived. The attention to detail you put into decorating your home, you put into naming your network,” Zfat told Sheinbaum, adding that Wi-Fi names are “sort of the name of your house.”
I might be biased seeing as my network name has looked something like 582793511 for my whole life. But perhaps that’s telling my house guests a fun secret about me, like the fact that I’m not interested in being part of this trend and think trying to tell my origin story with a string of letters or numbers—whether it be Wi-Fi naming or via vanity license plate—is, to put it mildly, a bit silly.
Let’s just say the non-Wi-Fi name is an intentional statement about performance of digital identity and I’m deliberately abstaining. Yeah, let’s go with that.
Read the full piece in the New York Times.