(NYTimes) - Five years ago, from within his Los Angeles apartment, Ryan Denehy got a first impression of some neighbours before meeting, or even seeing them, in person.
Popping up on his computer screen, the name of their Wi-Fi was not the customary amalgam of letters and numbers but appeared to refer, slangily, to a part of the female anatomy. "I would always see this one network name that seemed inappropriate. I wondered, 'Who is this, and what does it mean?'" said Denehy, 30, who later befriended the guys responsible, who lived downstairs. "I got the whole back story. Turned out, it was an inside joke that went totally over my head." Phew!
Denehy is the CEO of Electric, which manages more than 100 Wi-Fi networks in New York City annually, and has configured connections with names like DropItLikeItsHotspot, Abraham Linksys (a router brand pun) and BeckyWithTheGoodHair (which refers to a Beyonce song). Network names have gone from being boring digit chains to an opportunity for personalisation, like vanity plates or monogrammed towels.
"You name your Wi-Fi so you don't have to read the overly lengthy digit code and password to visitors, but also to authentically create a moment of levity, to tell your friend something they may not know about you," said Natalie Zfat, 31, a social media entrepreneur in New York City. She equates the importance of Wi-Fi branding to screen names 15 years ago. "There were always people who were straightforward and then others who were much more creative and detail focused," she said, citing aliases like Flirty4u and Sporty88.
The appeal of the witty Wi-Fi label crosses generations. Paige Morgan-Foy, 66, director of the dance programme at the Teaching Studios at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, North Carolina, named her network PointeToMe, as in the ballet shoe. "Since I teach dance, I wanted to pick something easy for me to remember," she said. Her husband, David Foy, 67, a semiretired yacht mechanic, owns a house in Germanton, North Carolina. His Wi-Fi, GoatHill1, is inspired by its surroundings. "The man that lives across the street rented part of our land and has his goats on it," Paige Morgan-Foy said.
But being direct about their internet home bases is better for some families than using imaginative descriptions. Barbara De Berry, 55, a retired real estate relocation director in Wayne, New Jersey, uses the title deberry (no space), and her home phone number - yes, some people still have phones that plug into the wall - as the password, to gain web access. "My husband did it. People know it's us," De Berry said. "It's easy to remember."
Some individuals and businesses prefer to conceal creatively, rather than extend connection. Ruairi Curtin, 40, tries to make internet service at the Penrose, a bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that he co-owns, not so obvious. "Our internal network is crownalley, the name of our LLC, so it's not easily found by patrons," Curtin said. "We want the bar to be a social place for good old conversation, not where people get buried in their technical devices."
But Leah Potkin, the so-called director of people at SpotHero, a parking reservation app in Chicago, believes her lack of a good Wi-Fi name is actually a conversation inhibitor. Potkin, 27, was not home during internet installation, leaving her with a random combination of 15 letters, numbers and dashes, and an assigned 13-character password she kept buried in a drawer. "Both are annoying to explain," said Potkin, who feels judged by her guests.
The customisation of a Wi-Fi name, it seems, solidifies the personality of a place. "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," said Zfat, who originally named hers YellowMango, after the paint colour in her kitchen. Now it's PersoNatalie. "It's sort of the name of your house, is it not?"