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Registering a Name for a Number

Date: 11/01/2002 at 22:01:14
From: Anonymous
Subject: How to register a name for a number?

Hello!

I have heard that it is possible to register a name for some power of 
ten, e.g. ten to the power of 2 is a HUNDRED, to the power of three is 
A THOUSAND, to the power of a billion is a GOOGOL (?), etc. So would 
it be possible for me to register a name for a number, and where 
should it be done? (Something like ten to the power of 2711981391005 = 
onurk.) 

My girlfriend has a birthday soon and I would like to name a number 
after her and incorporate it in a story I have written for her, 
something like - distant future, new civilization is discovered, their 
world is 1anna light years from the Earth. Some people (including 
myself) find this cute. It also contributes to the popularization of 
mathematics.

Thanks!


Date: 11/03/2002 at 11:50:24
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: How to register a name for a number?

Hi,

No one is authorized to 'register' names for powers of ten, any more 
than anyone is authorized to 'register' new words.  

The way a new name for a power of ten - or a new word in any living
language - gets created is that someone starts using it, and other
people decide that they like it and start using it too. So by
publishing your story, you _are_ 'registering' the name, in a sense,
and all that remains to be seen is whether people will pay attention 
to it, or ignore it. 

If your goal is to get the name into common usage, probably naming it
after a person isn't the best way to go, unless you're already a 
famous author. If Edward Krasner's nephew had decided to call 10^100 a
'krasner' instead of a 'googol', that would have been the story. But
'googol' is a cute word, and it captures a little of the feeling that
you get when you try to comprehend numbers that large, which makes it
memorable. The names 'googol' and 'googolplex' caught on, not because
they've been sanctioned by some governing body, but because people
like them when they hear them. Similarly, when Robert Heinlein needed
a new word to denote a level of understanding that everyone recognized
but no one had named, he made one up - 'grok' - and people now use it,
not because he registered the word with any governing body, but
because people liked it, and found it useful.  

If your goal is simply to surprise your girlfriend with an unusual
gift, get a nice-looking certificate page at Kinko's, and print up a
certificate that says that the [whatever] is duly registered as the
'official' name for 10 to the [whatever] power.  It will have just as
much effect as paying someone else to do it, it will be cheaper, and 
you can choose how you'd like the certificate to look, instead of
leaving that to someone else. 

By the way, for what it's worth, I'd say that this kind of thing 
doesn't contribute to the popularization of mathematics at all. On
the contrary, it fosters the misconception that mathematics is some
kind of centrally directed effort, under the control of some official
group, when it's really more like music: not something that 'they'
make up for 'us' to use, but something that we all do together, in a
messy, market-driven way, as human beings.  

- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/ 


Date: 11/05/2002 at 16:29:58
From: Anonymous
Subject: Thank you (How to register a name for a number?)

Hi again, Doctor Ian!

Thank you for your answer, which was more than satisfactory, and I 
have to admit you were quite right about the popularization of 
mathematics; things such as registering name numbers wouldn't do the 
trick. As a former student of mathematics and a student of linguistics 
I can quite understand what you were aiming at. Mathematics is 
wonderful, you've been very helpful. Thank you once again, and I hope 
that you will keep up the excellent work you're doing!
Associated Topics:
Elementary Large Numbers

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