114

Background

For my thesis I wrote a program that performs calculations on galaxy models. I named it easy_galaxy. My adviser thought the name was too long, and asked me to shorten it. I came up with EzGal (pronounced exactly as you think: "easy gal"). Under that name, the application was finished, it was being distributed to (and used by) the broader community, and a paper was published all about it. It is also on my github profile by its name. I never once thought about the name (nor did my collaborators, apparently), but I mentioned it in passing to my wife. She gave me a funny look and asked me if I actually named this program "easy gal". I had, and it is far too late to change the name.

The problem

The trouble is that it comes up in a professional context. It came up frequently when I was interviewing: it wasn't the most difficult part of my thesis, but it was a good solution to a common problem and is (for the community in question) widely used as a result. It is also publicly available, while most of my professional work has been private and locked up in closed-source-software, which made it an important talking point when I was interviewing. I enjoyed the project itself, so if I'm talking about past work with colleagues I bring it up from time-to-time because it is my little pet project.

Unfortunately now that it is clear to me that the name is mildly suggestive, and that is probably more obvious to others than it was to me, I hesitate to bring up the project itself. Once or twice I've brought it up and explained the name (and that it was an innocent mistake), but sometimes I think that doing so makes a mountain out of a molehill. Then sometimes I mention the project but don't comment on the name, and spend the rest of the conversation wondering if the other person thinks I'm a womanizer. It is especially awkward when the other person is a woman.

Any suggestions on how to discuss this past project of mine that I'm fairly happy with, in a way that moves past its unfortunate name quickly without derailing whatever conversation I'm having?

Quick edit to add timeline

Based on some of the comments I just wanted to clarify one detail. This really happened quite a while ago. I started the very first version of this software package in 2010, renamed it probably that same year, and published the paper about it in early 2012. I graduated in late 2012 and left Academia for the world of software engineering. I was more irritated with myself than anything else when I realized how the name could be misunderstood (probably somewhere in mid 2012), but with the paper already published my adviser suggested we simply leave it as is.

In the past year or so there have been many high-profile stories about how both the tech industry and (in particular) the academic world of astronomy gravely mistreat women, and that helped put my project name back on my radar after many years of not thinking about it.

  • 3
    Why do you say it's impossible to change the name? WireShark was Ethereal for years, then it was "WireShark (formerly Ethereal)" and now it's just WireShark and no-one has any problem. – Vicky Oct 6 '17 at 14:21
  • @Vicky It's not impossible per-se, but there are a number of challenges. The primary of which is that there is a published paper about it that will always be a primary point of reference, and which I now have no control of adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2012PASP..124..606M – Conor Mancone Oct 6 '17 at 14:30
  • FCKEditor changed to CKEditor, maybe look at how he did that. – Jim W says reinstate Monica Oct 9 '17 at 4:42
203

Just refer to it by the longer name and just don't mention the shorter name.

Call it "Easy Galaxy", or use this opportunity to choose another name that shows a bit more imagination and is more descriptive of what the model actually does.

Better still, rename it on Git and anywhere else you have it.

Since this project seems to have lived for some time with the old name, you can pass this off with:

Yeah, we call it this now - in hindsight, it wasn't a great choice and my wife was entirely correct...

Obviously, this isn't a huge issue and it's doubtful that anyone believes that you're being outwardly sexist with this name, but times move on...

102

You're overthinking the issue.

It's a catchy humourous name if anyone notices the coincidence, if that is what it is called then call it EzGal. It's like a sales gimmick, breaks the ice with a bit of a laugh, and if it's serious work it will shine on it's own merits despite any coincidental name issues it may have.

  • 8
    Just call it EzGal. With a straight face. Never acknowledge. – Walrus the Cat Oct 6 '17 at 2:48
  • 3
    @RenéRoth to be honest I don't really worry about other people offending themselves over trifles (you can't please everyone), rather on the spirit I intended something. When I want to be offensive it is very clear cut. The OP did not make the name with the intention of suggesting promiscuous females, and the inference is not clear cut at all unless you're specifically looking at it like that. IMHO anyway. – Kilisi Oct 6 '17 at 9:10
  • 8
    IMHO = I'm (a) ho....... Git hub = Meeting place for gits...... etc,. try hard enough you can offend yourself with many things. – Kilisi Oct 6 '17 at 10:14
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    @djechlin exgal isn't even in that equation, you have to try quite hard to make the allusion and then offend yourself with it. I told my wife and her cousin 'A guy called his program Easy Gal'.... unanimous reply was... huh? so?...what does it do? ... I tried to explain the promiscuous women bit but got accused of having a dirty mind. – Kilisi Oct 7 '17 at 14:58
  • 5
    Only nonsense I have seen is your comments... no offence, but the assumption that everyone is constantly waving their copulatory appendages at you, sounds either paranoid, or wishful. – Kilisi Oct 7 '17 at 15:38
53

You're massively over thinking it.

As any British person will tell you, "Git" is a word for someone who is generally unpleasant. "He is a bit of a git", if you will. However, its name as a version control software and part of brand names such as GitHub is immovable now.

Whether it was Linus Torvalds' intention for it to be a double entendre is a question for history, but it's gone past any word play and became an accepted standard. If EzGal is already in widespread use then it's fine as is.

As pointed out by Pajeet Ramahari-Mawari-Kulmini in the comments, GIMP is even worse is this regard.

  • 46
    When asked about the name git, Torvalds' response was "I'm an egotistical bastard, and I name all my projects after myself" – SystemParadox Oct 4 '17 at 8:38
  • 5
    I once introduced the concept of git to a british colleague of mine who never heard of it before. He was visibly startled about the name! – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Oct 4 '17 at 9:20
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    I don't think Linus is an authority when it comes to politeness or interpersonal skills. – el.pescado Oct 4 '17 at 13:28
  • 38
    @el.pescado He is. You just need to ask yourself What Would Linus Do? And then do the opposite. – Dan Neely Oct 4 '17 at 13:54
  • 20
    Git isn't that bad, GIMP however.. – ZN13 Oct 5 '17 at 7:15
19

Changing the name might be difficult, but what about the pronunciation? EzGal could very easily be pronounced "ezgal" (with an initial "eh" sound), especially if you quietly tweak the appropriate bits of documentation. That won't help you if you're making your case in email, but it should help manage the situation fairly effectively for bringing it up over the phone or in person.

  • 4
    Or even "eez-gal" would be better. – MissMonicaE Oct 4 '17 at 16:21
  • 3
    By standard convention, the z would be uppercase if the proper pronunciation were "Easy Gal." Thus, altering the pronunciation to fit convention would be OK; or more simply just use "easy galaxy" in conversation (the answer above). – WBT Oct 4 '17 at 20:05
  • 6
    +1. If somebody asks how you came up with the name, you can simply say that "Nazgûl" was already taken. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '17 at 20:38
  • 8
    You could simply pronounce "z" the correct way and problem disappears by itself :) – Matija Nalis Oct 4 '17 at 21:10
  • 1
    The problem is you have little influence on other peoples' pronounciation. To make matters worse, "Ez-" meaning "easy" prefix seems to be estabilished (EzDrummer). Third, explaining "right" pronounciation ("you know, it's called "ee-zed-gal", not "easy gal") could make situation even more awkward. – el.pescado Oct 5 '17 at 5:29
8

Explain the acronym whenever you need to refer to in a professional context to people for the first time. "I also created EzGal, as in EasyGalaxy ..."

Also add a clarification for the name on github like easy_galaxy(EzGal). and be done with it.

Apologizing beforehand assumes you re guilty about it and DOES make a mountain out of a molehill.

7

Having watched the conversation here for a while and given it more thought, I realized that I wanted to add my own two cents.

I think its important to not just consider how such a name might impact me personally, but also the broader community (i.e. those who use the tool and see its name). In that context, it's important to keep in mind the ongoing issues of sexual harassment and workplaces that inherently marginalize women.

It's worth taking a moment to make it clear that hostile work environments for women is a real thing. That much is clear from stories like that of Susan Fowler that certainly contributed to the ousting of the Uber CEO and founder from his own company.. The astronomy world in particular has had many high-profile stores come to light lately about men exhibiting a long-standing pattern of blatant sexual harassment: see here, here, and here for some examples. The overall situation might actually be worse in the astronomy world, as in some cases the men in question were actually sheltered from appropriate consequences by their institutions, an act which (IMO) substantially adds to the impression of a general workplace that is hostile to women.

As a result, regardless of whether a name with sexual connotations was intentional or not, and regardless of how easy it might seem to be to dismiss it ("Oh, that was just a silly mistake"), others might very legitimately see the situation differently. Especially in the context of the current situation in the tech/science world where many women feel marginalized because of their gender, anything that further contributes to that impression should be avoided as much as possible, accident or not.

So I would say that it doesn't even matter if it was an innocent mistake, or if it seems fairly harmless. What matters is how the rest of the world views it, and I think there is a good chunk of the wider world which will view it negatively. As a result the answer is quite simple: to the extent that it is possible, change the name. Not just in conversation, but also on the web.

It's important to consider not just one person's career, but also the careers of those around you. That, after all, is the definition of community.

  • 2
    If I could upvote this more than once I would. – Vicky Oct 6 '17 at 14:20
  • Thanks. It took dozens of men at workplace.SE a few weeks to think of this. – user42272 Oct 7 '17 at 14:41
  • Oh, you're the OP. Dozens of men at workplace.SE couldn't see what the big deal was. – user42272 Oct 7 '17 at 14:44
  • @djechlin If you're just coming by now you missed a lot of the "fun". The moderators have been doing a pretty good job of clearing out all the less-than-helpful comments. One thing I've gathered from all of this is that (intentionally) using sexual innuendo when naming projects in tech is more common than you might think. I never would have done it on purpose myself (nor would I accept it from a team member), but it still happened. I don't think doing this on purpose was ever reasonable to do, and certainly isn't anymore, but it seems suggestive names aren't going anywhere. – Conor Mancone Oct 7 '17 at 15:36
  • 1
    Yes, suggestive names are common. I don't like it. I think before I picked up on the sexist tones, I already felt professional and fun mix but professional and juvenile immature don't. – user42272 Oct 7 '17 at 15:51
-1

Perhaps a name like SimpleGal would work.....

If it has been published under EzGal, as the owner you get to refer to it how you want to. You can't force others easily to do that. As stated by others you're pretty much stuck to inflections or being explicit everywhere you can.

Perhaps a prettier version with colours and pretty-printed output might help migrate existing users over to your new, "sparkly" version "2-Easy-Galaxy" (note: don't use that....)

  • You know migration in software is really hard right – user42272 Oct 7 '17 at 15:57

protected by David K Oct 4 '17 at 13:15

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