A few years ago, I decided to name one of my laboratory rooms. This particular lab is a nice little room, conveniently located. In it, various members of my research group do mundane but essential research activities.
I decided to give this little room an Awesome Name: a long, formal, jargony name that indicated the simple tasks performed in this room in a very impressive way. I made a sign and stuck it on the door. I did it entirely to amuse myself. There was no other reason.
The weird thing is that, although my group had been doing these same basic research tasks with essentially the same equipment for years (with a few modern additions now and then), once the lab had an Awesome Name, I started getting queries from other people about using this lab. I even saw the stupid-joke name of the lab show up in proposals by others who used, or planned to use, this lab.
I never use this joke-name for the lab; in official and semi-official (web) listings of facilities, the lab has a boring, simple name that describes what we do there.
I saw the joke-name again recently in a proposal-related document, and now I wonder if I should take down the sign with the Awesome Name. The joke-name is so over-the-top obnoxious that anyone who doesn't 'get' the joke -- i.e., everyone but me and maybe one of my cats -- must surely think I am a pompous jerk rather than (or in addition to being) someone who makes jokes no one else thinks are funny.
I am fascinated by the fact that (1) so many people think this is a serious name, and (2) the lab got noticed more once it had an impressive-sounding name, albeit a really stupid one.
I have no good explanation for (2), and the most obvious explanation for the lack of humor-detection is that it's really not funny, but I wonder whether a tiny part of the explanation for this is that people don't expect humor -- even of the nerdy, strange sort -- in this setting.
Does anyone else believe that? I know lots of people who give strange names to their Lab Machines and Computers, but these are typically obviously nicknames or the names aren't written down or, if they are, on some informal sign. Or maybe there is an inside jokey name that everyone knows. The Awesome Name of my lab room isn't obviously a joke (clearly) and therefore might be sort-of believable in a stereotypical 'academic' context, although it makes me a bit sad to think so.
In the case of my lab, maybe I shouldn't have pretended that it was a serious name, with a sign on the door for all to see (and write into their NSF proposals), but who knew people would take it seriously and notice it? Obviously, I did not.
12 years ago