Bitcoin: What’s in a name?

Most of us don’t find out whether we have a talent for choosing names, except if we’re lucky enough to have to pick them for our children. But innovators do. Dr. Craig Wright says he’s not good at naming things and that when he comes up with an idea, he defers to his more market-oriented colleagues at nChain to decide what it should be called. 

But he’s being too hard on himself. As Satoshi Nakamoto, Dr. Wright came up with “Bitcoin.” Short, snappy and self-explanatory. It sounds like the kind of brand name that would play well in focus groups. It could have emerged from months of work by consultants after earnest meetings in trendy offices.

Yes, “Bitcoin” has a good ring to it. Whoever came up with “COVID-19,” “Pfizer” or “AstraZeneca” could learn a thing or two from Dr. Wright’s talent for naming things.

Which is why it’s so unfair on Dr. Wright that his beautifully precise and memorable name now generates more confusion than clarity. 

Bitcoin was something new, something not just invented, but ‘released’: the software was designed to build on itself, to keep itself honest, to grow up. In that way, it was more ‘his baby’ than other inventions by other inventors. When it was older, it would shrug off its dependence on block rewards and start to earn its living through transaction fees. Who knows, maybe one day it would leave home and settle down somewhere.

But rather than thinking of Bitcoin as a person, it’s easier to use theological analogies. It is the complicated unity of Bitcoin that has caused its naming problem. On the face of it, the original blockchain has split three ways, creating an unholy trinity. BTC, BCH and Bitcoin SV (BSV). Three in one, each different and separate but in some deep sense, still united. 

Is BSV ‘the son of Bitcoin,’ the incarnation that, despite its sudden appearance on November 15 2018, is not new at all, but has always been there? “In the beginning was the Word.” Should we see BSV as redeeming the original sins of Bitcoin? 

Just like debates in the early church, there are bitter schisms that create opposing camps over questions about Bitcoin which, to outsiders, look about as worthwhile as the famous theological puzzle “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Are you with the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judea? 

So there’s BTC, BCH and BSV. What’s the problem? There’s Hertz, Avis and Budget. There’s margherita, pepperoni and quattro formaggi. There’s me and you and a dog named Boo.

Well, the problem is that there’s more than an arcane theological distinction between the different Bitcoins. Dr. Wright describes BTC as a Ponzi scheme. The more that the public hears about BTC’s wildly volatile and apparently meaningless price, the less the potential of BSV will be understood. 

Dr. Wright and his supporters insist that BSV is Bitcoin. They believe the other variants have simply appropriated the name and are sailing under false colours. They are not even aiming to fulfil Dr Wright’s idea of what Bitcoin can achieve, as he set out clearly in the White Paper.

He is very open to people coming up with their own blockchain projects, even if they borrow some of his ideas, as long as they don’t claim them to be Bitcoin. He doesn’t expect others to succeed because he thinks he got the formula right but as a committed free-marketer he’s delighted for anyone to try anything. May the best blockchain win.

As a name known the world over, the very word “Bitcoin” has a financial value. How much would a commercial product have to pay to achieve the same kind of name recognition? That widespread awareness is hard to achieve and doesn’t fade fast. But, unusually, there’s now a fight over what Bitcoin is the name of

If, as well as giving back Dr. Wright his proprietary rights over the word he invented, that fight leads to greater awareness of what Bitcoin is and what it can do, that will be a useful spinoff. We can then abandon the BSV ticker symbol in everyday use and just refer to Bitcoin—because it’s beautifully simple.  

New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.