The Best Name Ever for a Computer Language

One of those odd bits of trivia floating around my head is where various computer languages get their name from.

The boring acronym/abbreviation category

This includes BASIC, from the awfully contrived Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. Fortran comes from Formula Translation, a horrible, horrible way of naming a language, but which I can forgive as Fortran is possibly the oldest high-level computer language. LISP had a similar “could only be chosen by techies” origin, as List Processing.

Perl ostensibly stands for Practical Extraction and Report Language. This is a language whose brief heyday was the first few years of the web. Perl’s convenient string manipulation made it well-suited for dealing with URL’s and putting HTML together programmatically.

Names chosen for marketing reasons

My favourite all-purpose language, Java, was originally called Oak, then Green. Java finally was chosen, leading to all types of coffee-associated product names. I think renaming it from Green to Java was a well-needed marketing move. JavaScript was named to share in Java’s hype, even though Java and JavaScript don’t have much in common.

Ruby, Smalltalk, and Python all fall in this category. Python, especially, stands out:

Python actually got is name from a BBC comedy series from the seventies “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. The designer needed a name that was short, unique, and slightly mysterious. Since he was a fan of the show he thought this name was great.



Names only programmers would understand

Once upon a time there was a language called BCPL (Basic Combined Programming Language). A lighter version of it was called B. When Dennis Ritchie designed a new language based on B, he called it C. Because it was like B, only better. In C, two plus signs together (++) means increase a value by one. So a successor language to C was C++ (Like C, but a bit better). A reworking of C++ became D. Another reworking of C (although the language owes more to Java than C) is C#, which is also a musical note one semitone higher than C.

Languages named after mathematicians

Pascal was named after the influential 17th century French mathematician Blaise Pascal.

Charles Babbage, an 18th century mathematician who designed – but never built – a primitive programmable computer called the Difference Engine was honoured by the computer language Babbage. Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace worked closely with Babbage and designed a program for the Difference Engine. This is considered to be the first computer program ever written, even though she never got to run it, debug it, or give it a snazzy graphical user interface. The US Department of Defense sponsored the creation of a language, Ada, that was named after her.

Both Haskell and Curry were named after Haskell Curry, an American 20th century mathematician. His surname has also been given to ‘currying’, which is the process of converting a function with two parameters to a function with one parameter for a fixed value of the second parameter. Haskell Curry himself only popularised this concept. It was originally invented by Moses Sch√∂nfinkel, but let’s face it, if ‘currying’ sounds a little silly, ‘Sch√∂nfinkelisation’ is simply absurd.

Languages named after porn stars

Now we get to the best name ever for a computer language; indeed the whole point of this article. At university I learnt a little about Linda, a language typically used as a “language within a language” to aid in parallel processing. It took some years for me to realise that Linda was named after the porn star Linda Lovelace. It was a subtle joke and allusion to Ada by the language’s designers, which I suspect passed over the head of my entire computer science class.

As far as I know, Linda is the only language named after a porn star.