Like any ecosystem, blockchain has its own language, its own jargon. Everybody is talking about decentralization, incentives, proof-of-stake, governance, cryptocurrency. For the outside world , this is a kind of crypto-blah, blah, blah. Maybe we should question our language usage by conducting a short archaeology of their origins. Neologisms or loanwords from the computer field? From the management field? From the company field? Words too have a life, and getting to know their origins could give insights on their meanings. A short, entertaining and non-exhaustive study of the names used to describe blockchain-based projects could be instructive as part of a broader analysis of the blockchain's relationship to language.
This onomastic study will take as an example some enlightening / paradigmatic cases of how the aim of projects are reflected in the names they take.
Coin, coin, coin
Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin and all the coin-named projects indicate the financial, even speculative, and originally bank-independent nature of the blockchain. This is the original vision of blockchain technology - and also the best known to the general public. In fact, while people now know the name “Bitcoin”, they more often don’t know the word “blockchain”, proof that cryptocurrency is more famous than the technology that supports it.
Ethereum and the will for osmosis
Then arrived Ethereum. Buterin's innovation is to see in blockchain technology other use-cases than cryptocurrency, as it can be observed in the introduction of its White Paper:
Satoshi Nakamoto's development of Bitcoin in 2009 has often been hailed as a radical development in money and currency, being the first example of a digital asset which simultaneously has no backing or intrinsic value and no centralized issuer or controller. However, another - arguably more important - part of the Bitcoin experiment is the underlying blockchain technology as a tool of distributed consensus, and attention is rapidly starting to shift to this other aspect of Bitcoin.
The choice of the name “Ethereum” clearly indicates that the project will not only be about a cryptocurrency. It will also condense all the bla bla bla and it also condenses all the mysticism associated with this project. The term ether has its roots in mythology and then in Greek philosophy. Aether is the personification of the upper sky. In Aristotle vision, the ether is the fifth element, a pure air forming the matter of celestial bodies. Ether is a hypothetical fluid supposed to fill space beyond the Earth's atmosphere. By extension, it symbolically and poetically refers to clarity, purity and... transparency! Vitalik Buterin explained his choice for this name:
I was browsing a list of elements from science fiction on Wikipedia when I came across the name. I immediately realized that I liked it better than all of the other alternatives that I had seen; I suppose it was the fact that sounded nice and it had the word "ether", referring to the hypothetical invisible medium that permeates the universe and allows light to travel. Although I did play wow back in the day, any reference to those level 70 baddies in Netherstorm is purely incidental.
It should be noted that the term ethereum is neither English, Latin nor Greek. The addition of the suffix -eum simply gives the term a more antique ring. Selected for its sound, the term itself contains the ideas of a universal structure, of clarity and simplicity. Here, technology is almost divinized, or at least, seems capable of connecting human beings with each other.
Augur and mysticism
Other blockchain-based projects carry this Greek-Roman root and this tendency towards osmosis. Let us naturally mention Osmose, a blockchain-based cooperative, or Augur. Augur describes itself as a “decentralized oracle and a prediction market protocol”. Here again, the ancient world serves as the cornerstone of a kind of technological sublime;.among the Romans, the omen was both the guess of the future and the priest acting as the messenger of this prediction. As for the oracle, like the Greek Pythia of Delphi, it is a divine being in charge of making predictions. The Augur project combines a mystical dimension with the betting market. Trading the market (and especially the cryptocurrency market because of its exacerbated volatility) can feel like trying to read through unknown forces and identifying almost mystical patterns in the price charts. Thus, Augur responds perfectly in this need for an oracle guiding all these desperate traders in search of an understanding of this seemingly unpredictable market.
Aragon and politics
Aragon is a Spanish autonomous community, and also a famous French poet. But it is also, nowadays, a project based on Ethereum and the blockchain. Its creators, Luis and Jorge - you can read an interview here - named it Aragon as a reference to the anarchic movement in the region of Aragón during the 20th century. Within the larger context of Spanish Revolution, Aragon Anarchist has carried out its project of land collectivization, redistribution of wealth and direct governance.
By choosing this reference, the creators of Aragon seem to be part of a revolutionary descent, a political symbolism to illustrate what they call their “fight for freedom”.
Libra, Zuckerberg and Augustus
With a launch planned for 2020, Libra’s Facebook cryptocurrency highlighted the already existing blockchain ecosystem and allowed a social acceptance of this world to the broad public. At first, Libra could have sounded like a reference to a putative “liberty” of the people that could be achieved through the use of this currency. But instead, the choice for this name stems from deeper origins, which could allow for an even more interesting interpretation. Mark Zuckerberg's passion for the Roman emperor Augustus is now well known; the Facebook creator, who identifies himself with this emperor, has even named one of his children August.
We also know that the libra wasf a unit of measurement during great Roman empire. Does he want his Libra to be the new unit of measurement for our globalized world? Libra is also an astrological sign representing balance, measurement, as well as a classic element of air. With this name, Zuckerberg has combined a historical, geopolitical and symbolic connotation.