Server Naming Conventions

By Deane Barker on November 9, 2005

Joe and I are bring another two servers online this week, and we have to name them. We have a convention: we name them after cities. We have Athens, Tokyo, Cairo, London, and Auckland, so far. These new ones will be Paris and Rome.

I worked at a company once where the servers were named after Warner Bros. cartoon characters: Bugs, Daffy, Porky, MJ Frog…others I can’t remember. (But there are people who comment on this blog who might remember more. You all know who you are…)

At bigger companies, server naming gets boring — usually some combination of letters and numbers denoting their location, among other information.

Someday we’ll be big enough to be that boring. But, in the face of that tedium, does anyone have any other examples of excellent server naming conventions?



  1. At bigger companies, server naming gets boring — usually some combination of letters and numbers denoting their location, among other information.

    A former employer of mine took this approach (“boring”) and applied it to database entities as well. For instance, and human resources table would have been something like HRT10000 with views being HRV10000, HRV10010, etc. each with a different slice of the underlying table.

    At first it was a bit confusing, but it became second nature after awhile.

    I am all for names that have meaning, so I guess I prefer the boring.

  2. This reminds of the nameservers for our ISP – CBeyond.

    I guess they loved Toy Story as much as I did.

  3. Currently I’m working with machines named after stars(procyon, canopus, vega…).

    I worked at a huge company where we had different schemes for different divisions. Clusters I remember: Car models with a bent ‘twards hi-performance(3000gt, stealth…). Plus the somewhat predictable Star Trek ships.

    Personally I name machines using the Greek mythology(chiron, cerberus, athena).

  4. A client of mine named their servers after Disney characters. One server, named Flounder, was a constant source of problems. For some reason, they renamed the server, and the server stopped floundering.

    Be careful using company trademarks in your naming. I worked for a company that used car names (Porsche, Jaguar, Beetle…) as product code names. The names leaked to customers and we eventually received a cease and desist from one of the car makers.

  5. When I attended the Univ. of Texas in the early ’90’s, some of their public servers were named after characters from Matt Groening’s Life In Hell comics. Telnet-ing into servers like Binky and Bongo to check email always gave me a chuckle — of course, for those not in the know, there was probably some head-scratching about those names.

  6. I am all for names that have meaning, so I guess I prefer the boring.

    I’ve found that the problem with names that have meaning is that some time meanings can change.

    For instance, if I have a location naming code, and my web server is in Seattle at the 12th floor data center, rack 10, third server, it might be STL12_10C. Everyone learns that that’s the name they load their punch-the-monkey banners to.

    So one day we decide to move the web server to Cleveland, where it will need to be CLE05_23B. There is great wailing and gnashing of teeth because the name changed and now all sorts of scripts and configuration have to be changed as well.

    A previous employer used this scheme on desktops, which meant that everyone’s PC’s had to have name changes when they moved desks (that happened often). So rather than just unplugging the machine and plugging it in again at the new desk, a tech would have to come over with admin access, change the NT name of every machine, then reinstall any software (like SQL Server) that broke when the name changed.

    It seems that naming things after their location essentially subverts the purpose of DNS, which is to make the machine addressable regardless of the network structure. Random names are a better plan, IMHO, since they provide meaning to the users without carrying along any sort of secondary meaning that may break later.

  7. I worked at a company where we did Simpson’s names, which was fun. We now do cartoon characters similar to your Warner Bros. reference.

    My all time favorite was back in college with 5 roommates, and about 2-3 computers each we went with a Star Wars theme. The servers were named for things like the Death Star and the clients were Yoda, Vader, etc. How can you beat that?!

  8. I remember I worked at a company where an internal message thread sprung up because one group was using the names of Disney’s Seven Dwarfs for servers, and other countries liked the idea. So basically the thread became a “How do you say the names of the Seven Dwarfs in as many languages as possible” thing, so other countries could follow suit. I printed out a hard copy and still have it somewhere around here.

  9. A company I worked for had two themes: Lord of the Rings characters (predictable) and Greek philosopher/scientists. I rather liked the Greek ones.

  10. I’m originally from Alabama, so I tend to use the South as my naming scheme. Being from Mobile, that’s my desktop.

    The gateway machine is Atlanta, because, to get anywhere at all from the South, one must fly through Atlanta. [The running joke is that, should one die in the South, you’ll go through Atlanta on the way to Heaven or Hell.]

    At one point, the box that served as voice mail/PBX was Jackson [home of MCI Worldcom].

    Print server’s are Faulkner and Harper [Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird].

    The list goes on.

  11. I used to work for a company where we used Star Trek characters like Picard, Worf, etc. Also one which used ship names, but now we use a boring combination of city and IP#.

  12. I’m a techie for a school district, and we generally name our servers after computers from movies (generally malevolent ones). So far we’ve got a Deep Thought, WOPR, HAL, and I might even branch out and make my new project server a Cylon.

  13. At one company I worked for in Italy, the admins named servers with women names (like alessia, marina, etc.).

    A hosting company I’m dealing with at the moment names its servers afters clams (awful if you want my opinion).

    The coolest naming scheme was one I was partially responsible for, at another company in Italy: we named our servers after wine names, so we had tocai as our CVS server, amarone and cartizze were two development servers, buttafuoco was the mail server and so on.

  14. At a company I worked for the administrators decided to name the servers after disasters, knowing that the management would never see these names. However, soon one of the managers got a apache 404 error, showing the real name of the web server: titanic. A few months later the company went bankrupt, but as far as I know the server names were not involved.

  15. Due to a friends’ constant whine, “I need two weeks in Maui”, when I got the chance to name servers they were named after Hawaiian islands.

    We used to get software deployments on media that remembered the name of the machine it was installed from. Our software vendor did the usual cartoon characters thing, and so we once got a distribution from a machine named METALMUNCHINGMOONMICE (from Rocky and Buillwinkle).

  16. At my office we use famous artists for server names: Monet, Van Gogh, Ansel, Stan Lee…it works because part of our company sells prints, plus it makes us feel smart and cultured.

    At home I use the less cultured naming convention of Superman characters.

  17. Funny story that I forgot to put in the original post —

    Tokyo is an older server that has been abused and has a ton of stuff running on it. I asked Joe about putting something else on it, and he responded

    I’d rather not, since — much like the actual city — Tokyo is crowded and prone to disaster.

    I must be a total dork, because I laughed my butt off over that.

  18. The joint I worked for prior to where I’m at today named them as follows:

    Exchange server: MAILSERVER File server: FILESERVER App server: APPSERVER SQL database server: SQLSERVER

    My manager at the time was even more boring that you aspire to become.

  19. The Unix team uses constellations, and Greek and Egyptian gods. The Windows team is all over the map, with cartoon characters (Sponge Bob is a popular theme), and two servers that work in tandem: Hebe and Gebe

    I have a dual processor at home I named Binary. I named my dual-boot laptop Dichotomy.

  20. In a previous life, we were configuring a pair of servers to use for mail processing. During initial testing and configuration, they weren’t very reliable.

    So we named them “Paris” and “Nicky”, because they were so likely to … wait for it … go down on you.

    Really though – it’s a good idea for any business or public server to not be named after a trademark – Disney characters are a particularly bad idea, for obvious lititigous reasons.

    In the past, I’ve used fishes, regional geographic elements, greek gods, periodic elements, desserts, etc. If you have 50 servers, it can be difficult to find a namespace big enough that you don’t have to resort to “server001”.

  21. Big Hair Bands; Cereal.

    Oddly enough I was constantly hungry at work and there always seemed to be a lingering scent of hair spray.

  22. Well, at my school we have some interesting ones…

    The main servers are named dhv (hv being our school’s initials, d being for “domain controller”) and Scout (more about this one in a sec).

    A few years ago, one of my friends was in charge of building and deploying a lot of the school’s computers. He named all servers after horses (we had Seabiscuit, Silver, Scout, and some others I don’t remember).

    As for non-servers, if he built it, it got a “weird” name (we had “Agamemnon” and “The Cheat” among them). Otherwise, it got a boring name of “TR####” with TR being the initials of our school district and the #### being a four digit number.

    This year me and another of my friends are in charge, and we’ve already started having fun. The servers I control are “trsdwiki” (trsd being, as said earlier, our school district), “itsoblue” (itso stands for “IT Student Organization”, something new we started at the end of last year. I made it itsoblue because Blue was the previous name) and “deepthought”. My friend just uses boring names. :/

    Well, that turned out longer than I expected.

  23. If I were to start a new naming convention not site/building/server room related, I would definately be using HomestarRunner characters!

    MailServer – Strongbad of course VRU – Marzapan Domain Controller – Homestar DBase – Bubs Virus Software Server – The Cheat Commandos Mac Machines – Poopsmith :)

    Man…this would be fun.

  24. So we named them “Paris” and “Nicky”, because they were so likely to … wait for it … go down on you.

    This from the “Sexual Harrassment Lawsuit Waiting to Happen” department.

  25. One of the people who filled the Director of Technology role here at my company had some very specific rules for machine naming. His machine naming guidelines for the sysadmins were almost a thorough as the coding guidelines he had for the developers.

    The ones that I can remember are:

    1. Names must be short. No one will want to type blue-canary-in-the-outlet-by-the-light-switch five times in a row.

    2. Similar machines can have names along the same theme, but don’t choose a theme that is a set that inherently ordered or can’t handle additions or deletions. A pair of clustered database machines shouldn’t be named “Bert” and “Ernie”. What do you do when you add a third machine to cluster? Do you call it “Twidlebug”? “Grover”?

    3. When a machine is retired, the name is retired. When a machine is repurposed, the name gets moved with it. You don’t want to be looking through a logbook and see a reference to “mrburns”, you don’t want to be wondering if it was 1U DualPentium III or the Sun Ultra-2. Neither do you want to be trying to remember all the former names some random old piece of hardware.

    4. The names of the machines are only to be used internally within the Technology department, and never disseminated. Before anyone else finds out about a machine, it gets a cname that describes its function. It never goes well when you are questioned by a VP that a manager told him that an employee told him that there was some problem with a “golobulus” the other day that caused his reports to be late.

    5. If his rules were broken, and his predicted outcome resulted, do not fix the problem by starting over (essentially, do not commit error three to fix a problem caused by commiting errors one through five.) It will just compound the problem.

    I have to say, since he left we’ve broken every rule and each time he was right.

    Some naming schemes that come to mind, Tourist Destinations (disney, vegas, chinatown, etc.) MBTA stops ( park, central, hynes, chinatown.), GI Joe heros, GI Joe villians, highlander characters, Greek and Roman Gods, Simpsons characters, common first names, Perl operators, and simple sequential ordering (“x01”, “x02”, etc. Which is OK as long as you allow holes. There is no x06, although there is an x31.)

  26. The current place I’m working at uses coffee… So we’ve got LATTE, EXPRESSO, MOCHA, etc…

    But one of my favourite set of server names, wasn’t such an obvious theme… It was more references to outdated technology, so we had:

  27. I work at a Christian organization so of course, Bible names…

    The funny thing was that our firewall (that kept going down) was called Nimrod. I almost enjoyed telling the Net Admin that Nimrod died again.

  28. The retarded IT people at the company I work for decided to name all of our printers with names from the Lord of the Ring movies. It turned out be such a lame idea that no one could figure out where in the building they had just printed too. So now, we have pictures of the characters taped to the printers as well. What a bunch of dorks!!!

  29. I’ve been replacing computers at home with Shuttle Barebones systems which of course leads to using names of NASA Shuttles. So far I’ve got Enterprise and Columbia. (No need to point out the disasters, thank you)

  30. His machine naming guidelines for the sysadmins were almost a thorough as the coding guidelines he had for the developers.

    These are excellent guidelines. They’re going in my doc wiki.

    3 and #4 are especially good, and espouse the reasons we’re using our current naming schemes: The name is the server, but the server name shouldn’t be bound to a function – That’s why we have DNS.

  31. Server names don’t mean anything other than “this is a name that is easy to remember to get service XYZ.” It’s witty and cute to name nodes in a convention of other things (Greek gods are always popular for some reason), but if your job is to provide a service (email, DNS, AAA) then those clever server names mean nothing to you. More importantly, they mean nothing to the guy you just hired who has to keep mental track of what names map to what service. And what do you do when you run out of names? How many Greek gods are there, anyway, and what do you do when you run out? Break the convention? Rename?

    Plus, you need to think about what your customers or end-users will see. It’s a bit unsettling to see in an SMTP Received: header names that mean nothing. Or, even worse, names that mean something unintended. Product names are sometimes poorly translated into languages other than English (imagine if you named your nodes after weather events, and the server name “” made it to a German; “mist” is German slang for “manure”).

    Conventions for server names should be extendable and no-brainers. Users shouldn’t have to ask “what servername do I put into my SMTP setting?”, it should be “”. If your new system admin needs to know where the NIS masters are, it shouldn’t be more difficult than “”. Got a service that needs more than one node? Enumerate them at the end of the hostname, a la “dns01” and “dns02”. More than one environment? Use a hyphen: “dns-prod01”, “dns-dev01”. I’ll grant that nodes that do more than one thing need special care with the name; in these cases, I lean towards the rule of the most important service gets the name (ie, a node that performs both mail forwarding and HTTP proxying gets the mail service name), but I’ve also seen it take an even more generic approach (ie, “multi01”).

    The “[service]-[environment][number]” naming convention was used at two seperate workplaces previous workplaces of mine (neither was started by me; they were initiated by seperate people) and it works very well, allowing a single convention that scales, reduces confusion, and limits customer gaffes.

    If you really want to be clever and witty, then make CNAME entries in DNS for your own enjoyment.

  32. The ones I run at the office are named after content from “Dazed and Confused”

    Melbatoast, Wooderson, Pink, and Slater.

    No idea why, I think I happened to watch the movie the night before melbatoast was setup, and it just kinda flourished from there

  33. At a small(relatively) ISP i used to work for the systems where named after planets… mostly. The main login server was earth and i think there was a Sun or something similar. The only real exception was a mac set up for testing. I was named klingon. It was was named that because it was near Uranus and the Admin/Head of tech support wanted to be able to say there is a klingon near uranus. Ahh the imatturity…

  34. I once worked for a company where the convention was that each employee named his workstation after a city that started with the same initial as his first name.

    With my name being Uri, I had a choice between “Ulan Bator” and “Uppsala”. I chose the latter :)

  35. Joey Buttafuoco made headlines in 1992 for his affair with Amy Fisher, who subsequently shot Joey’s wife, Mary Jo Buttafuoco, in the face.

  36. I read the other day that Joey was recently spotted working for craft services on the “Desparate Housewives” set — he was serving sandwiches to the crew.

  37. Place names are best avoided if the network extends over more than one site. i.e. It get’s really difficult talking about connecting to NewYork (server name) in London..

  38. I’m affraid my companies naming scheme is quite boring – the first two letters of the server name is the location where the server is, the next two letters are the purpose of the server FS – file Server, DC – Domain Controller (sometimes it’s more than two letter, thats when it gets exciting!!) and finally if there’s more than one server it gets a number – e.g. A Global Catalogue Server based at an office in say Beaufort House would be called BHGCS and if there was more than one it would be BHGCS2 etc.

    Nice site by the way!

  39. Is there not security risks to naming your servers by their function? (i.e DC##) someone who got access to your internal network would know your domain controllers etc.

  40. Name the server after whats it going to do.

    We use a combination of three keywords. It’s location, it’s IT asset number, and its function

    For example: A server located in South Africa would start with ZA (domain suffix), then the town which its in, Cape Town would be CPT, then if its a workstation next letter is W, or notebook N, server S. You could use the asset number of the device next, which is for example 16290

    So, for my notebook i have, it would be something like this:


    South Africa, Cape Town, Notebook, 16290

    or, for a more functional server, which is opperational based on its role, it would be:


    South Africa, Cape Town, Server, WSUS

    ZACPTSSMS = SMS Server ZACPTSBLACK = Blackberry Server ZACPTSNASA = NAS A File Server ZACPTSIIS01 = IIS Server (01) ZACPTSWEB = Web Server ZACPTSEX01 = Excahnge (01) ZACPTSDC01 = Domain Controller (01)


  41. Server naming conventions that use coded location, client, purpose, etc. are great for accounting and technician reference, but they are very difficult to remember and to communicate via phone. Real names are easier for users to remember and communicate. Imagine calling ops and saying “I need you to reboot server SFIISAPPP1” (San Francisco IIS App Production Server 1) as opposed to “I need you to reboot server streetcar.” Sound out each on the phone to someone and see which one they get on the first try. With the complicated names most users need a cheat sheet to tell what they are anyway, so why not instead give the techs a cheat sheet to look up where “streetcar” is and what it’s for? Being dyslexic, I prefer real names to the alphabet-soup variety.

  42. We standardized on alien foods a while back. Gach, hasperat, kanar, slurm, flarn, spoo, haggis…

    Some of the old server names still exist, but over the last couple of years everything new seems to be named for its function. Boring, but as it turns out, WAY easier to teach new employees about.

    Another place I worked at used Jovian moons. There’s an endless supply of them, it seems.

    And at a REALLY old employer that was an ISP with a large dialup pool, the terminal servers were all named the word “hello” in different languages (ciao, konichiwa, bonjour, etc) and the servers were medical procedures. Trepan, myotomy, fetendo, epispasm…

  43. Like hurricanes, the name could be friendly while providing information. A male’s name couls indicate a Linux server while an female’s name could be for Windows.

    The first letter could provide other useful information like the server type (“D” for database, “H” for http, “A” for application “M” for mail, etc)

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