What's in a name

By Philip Miller
on Jun 12, 2020

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man's hand and the wisdom in a tree's root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”    - Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

When I was at school, A Wizard of Earthsea was one of my favourite books. I was always struck by this passage and was pleased that I remembered most of it correctly all these years later. Although I must confess, I have re-read it since. I am also sure that my English teachers wished I could quote the bard as well, alas sweet professor, I knew C++ better.

It takes on a new emphasis these days, one of semantics or linguistic pedantry. I don’t mean to make fun of this topic - quite the opposite. The essence of what Le Guin was trying to say was that things always have a unique name and that if you know that name you understand them properly. In every sphere of life there is a certain approach to naming things and these terms can become overloaded. For example, Captain in the Royal Navy vs Captain in the British Army, both ranks with responsibility with one very much higher than the other, but also a title to denote command of a ship, a rank in the police, etc. Without context and just the word “Captain” there is no way to work out what the person does.

Let’s take a look at the two first examples from the Royal Navy and British Army. These are organisations driven by tradition but also practicality; they know that there is a need to disambiguate what these ranks signify. Therefore, there is an internationally recognised code for ranks in the armed forces and, indeed, Captain and Captain correspond to OF-5 and OF-2 respectively. You know from this where they stand in the order of things. This look up table gives you more context and information than just the word itself.

It is no surprise that there are words that have multiple meanings. We have them all over the place either phonetically or in the dictionary where words are spelt, or is it spelled, identically but have different meanings or that are written differently but have the same meanings.

At Solidatus, we have long been able to derive uniqueness of purpose, or otherwise, within our models and thereby help people work out equivalence in meaning or where they actually meant something else entirely.

Modern regulatory requirements all want to have one thing, that of control. They are aimed at getting organisations to prove that they know what they are doing at every point and that it was what they thought they were doing. The trouble comes when you have regulatory regimes overloading some term (I am looking at you, “Swap”), they mean different things to different groups within one firm, let alone between firms and countries.

A framework of semantically unique names which are also matched to logically unique purposes provides a really great way to ensure you know what you are talking about. Then when that name is invoked, you are sure that the thing you are asking for is the thing you are getting. It is in the interests of everyone to assert this.

So the power of the glossary, dictionary, catalogue, is that there is a name against a purpose and that these things are unique in context. There is power in getting this right.

"Who knows a man's name, holds that man's life in his keeping.”
- Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

To learn more about the Solidatus Data Catalog, visit out Webpage where you can find more information about the Catalog, Business Glossary, Asset Inventory and Data Dictionary, as well as related Whitepaper, Case Study and Factsheet.

Topics: Data Lineage, Data Governance, Metadata Management, Metadata, Data Catalog, semantic, glossary, wizard

Author: Philip Miller

Co-Founder, Senior Architect, Analyst and Engineer with over 20 years’ experience within Financial Services specialising in high performance computing, complex event processing and system integration. He is an acknowledged expert in real-time regulatory reporting.
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