Evading the Big Blue Name Police
June 8, 2022 Alex Woodie
The name “Merlin” conjures up an image of a magical place where wizards cast spells against evil spirits and fairies fly through the air. In other words, the exact opposite of the button-down image of business computing that IBM tries its best to exude. That’s what makes the story of how the newest member of the IBM i product lineup got its name so unlikely.
Twenty-two months ago, the folks at the IBM Rochester had an idea for a new product that would help to modernize development and operations processes on IBM i. In addition to Web-based IDE based on VS Code, it would bring integration with Git for source code management and Jenkins for continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD). It was chosen to run in a container on OpenShift, Red Hat’s Linux-based distribution of Kubernetes.
The product, of course, would be named Merlin, which was the talk of the town at the POWERUp conference that took place two weeks ago in New Orleans. The new face of modern development on IBM i drew a lot of interest at the conference, which IBM executives said was pleasantly surprising.
During his POWERUp 2022 keynote address on Merlin on the afternoon of May 23, Steve Will, the longtime IBM i chief architect who recently added the IBM i CTO and distinguished engineer titles, discussed what went into the decision to name it Merlin. Turns out, it wasn’t a straightforward process to get the name approved.
“We created this idea and we said we want to come out with a catchy name,” Will told an audience numbering around 300. “We started talking about what it was, and because it’s simplifying things for people, we thought of the fact that the things that simplify things in the IT world are often called wizards. So as soon as we thought of that, I wanted to call it Merlin.”
However, IBM doesn’t let product managers – or event CTOs or distinguished engineers for that matter – name products whatever they want to name them. There are certain standards that must be upheld, protocols to abide by. So Will went to the group within IBM responsible for upholding those standards and protocols and made his case.
“So we went to the naming police,” Will continued. “In IBM there are naming police. You have to go to the naming police to get the name approved.”
While Will wasn’t trying to sneak some ridiculous name past the censors – like WebSphere Automation for IBM Cloud Pak for Watson AIOPs or something – he understood that there may be some pushback from his initial idea. To help convince the board, Will armed himself with evidence that they had recently approved a name that the mainframe team desired for their VS Code-based IDE for IBM Z, called Wazi, which, as it happens, was the model for Merlin.
“There had been a recent announcement from somewhere else in IBM where they have this cool name that didn’t mean anything,” Will said. “It wasn’t an acronym for anything. Just two syllables, with a z in it. Surely they’ll let us call it Merlin won’t they?”’
Well, it turns out, it wouldn’t be that easy. The naming board rejected Will’s opening bid. “Too fanciful,” they said, according to Will. “So we can’t call ourselves Merlin. What are we going to do?”
Will went back to the drawing board and pondered how his team could create an official IBM name that the naming board would love and understand. The name would need several words in it, in proper IBM fashion, and maybe it could even spell out a catchy acronym, which IBM is known to do.
Will put on his thinking cap, and thought the situation through, word by word. “First of all,” he said, “this product helps people with modernization and it’s a lot of complex technology that helps you move forward. So it’s a modernization engine,” he said. M-E. So far, so good.
“What does it do? Well, it helps people with the lifecycle of their software, and it’s all nice and integrated together, so lifecycle integration,” Will said. “So we called it IBM i Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration. And if you look at the right letters, you get Merlin.”
IBM i Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration was a good name, according to the naming board, and they gave Will their approval to use it. But there was a catch (there’s always a catch): The name “IBM i Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration” must always be used, the board said. Just the acronym, Merlin, by itself could not be used.
“As it happens, all of our screens talk about Merlin. They don’t talk about Modernization Engine for Lifecyle Integration,” Will explained. “But the official name of the products is [that] because we wanted to call it Merlin. We told the whole naming police that it doesn’t matter what we call it, they’re still going to call it Merlin. They said you still can’t call it Merlin. Okay, we’ll call it this then. So that’s how Merlin got its name.”
Steve Sibley, the vice president and global offering management for Cognitive Systems, has a different take on the matter.
“I still think we named it Merlin not because of the great acronym that someone came up with,” he said during his keynote address the morning of May 23, “but so Steve could reuse his robe from the Hogwarts COMMON.”
But wait, there’s more to the naming story. In addition to a group within IBM that polices product names, there’s another group that oversees the icons and logos associated with those products. Tim Rowe, the business architect in charge of application development, says there was initially some questions whether the favored icon for Merlin – er, IBM i Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration – could be used.
“There is the naming police. Well, there’s also the IBM design police,” Rowe said during his technical deep dive into Merlin May 23. “They’re real people. And all of our imagery, all of our icons, all had to be approved by IBM design.”
Rowe submitted six or seven different design ideas for an icon, and to his delight, they approved his favored design, which featured what appears to be a magic wand (the mythical Merlin carried a wand made of oak).
Rowe was flabbergasted. “The naming police wouldn’t let us get away with Merlin, but I was blown away they let me get away with that,” he said. “Who are you and what did you do with the IBM design police?”