At the Naming Party of the Voice Assistants

A linguistic view of the Alexas & Siris

Sujatha R
4 min readSep 3, 2021

What makes their names unique and interesting? Do they even have a deep meaning? And how easy are they to call out across the globe? And how natural does it feel to call these assistants?

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In the era of digital modernization, technology has come a long way. In the avatar of Voice Assistants, always awake, yours truly the assistant is only a call away. You ask for it and the Genie connects you to the cloud of information and services.

Well, at the naming party.. the names have to be pleasing, unique, short, simple, and contemporary, just like the trends in the modern baby names. What sets apart, is that these wake word names should possibly not conflict with day to day language.

Vowel Endings, Personalisation & Relaxation

Words ending in vowels are always relaxing. And why not.. There is no abrupt stop in the air flow and you get a chance to breathe out. This paradigm is seen in many languages. Female names typically end with ‘aa’ and ‘ee’ sounds and Siri and Alexa fit this bill well.

Alexa and Hey Siri are nice feminine names which makes them sound natural. ‘OK Google’ and to an extent ‘Hey Portal’ kind of sound like summoning a robotic protocol exchange.

It’s nice that all of them end with a vowel ‘a’ ‘i’ or a semi vowel ‘l’ which makes it more relaxing and accessible across linguistic groups.

After reading this article, says the linguist James Robinson Cooper on vowel endings vs consonant endings.

Great realisation concerning name endings. As kids most names were either shortened or lengthened as “jack” became “Jacko” or “james” became “jamie” or “jamo” and “steve” became “stevie” and “dave” became “davie” and “thomas” became “tommy”.

“Dave” is like a car hitting a wall and “Thomas” sounds like someone who digs graves and I think amongst children there is an intuitive, subconscious desire to break down or to avoid boundaries hence our social environment has names without walls as in names which end with vowels diffusing into the ether to continually journey throughout the universe.

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Alright, Let’s see if there is a historic meaning to these names.

Alexa can be related to the Greek ‘Alexander’ fame. Alexander means one who protects ( alexia ) + man ( andro ). And “Alexa” kind of fits into the theme. She who assists, protects and safeguards the needs and convenience.

Siri in Telugu is wealth, abundance, and prosperity. The Voice Assistant “Siri” perhaps is a coincidence or perhaps a wise choice of an international word. Nevertheless, the meaning fits well. A resourceful voice assistant that can fulfill abundant jobs.. Similar to “amazon” abundance in its meaning.

How simple are these sounds for an untrained voice?

If we look into the history of languages, it is interesting to see simplifications in complex words as they propagate across geography to accommodate a wide range of people, not necessarily trained and schooled for complex sounds.

Interestingly, Telugu “Siri” is a linguistic simplification of the Sanskrit term “Shri” which is kind of harder to pronounce. And the assistant Siri passes the test of time in adopting a simple name.

Interestingly, Alexa is supposed to be a linguistic simplification of the Sanskrit ‘raksha’. It has 3 modifications over its basic name and is a great topic for linguistic transformations as it is not quite obvious.

a) The complex R becomes the simpler L and this is common in Arabic, Sanskrit to Indian and in other languages too

b) A vowel is added before a consonant for ease. This can be seen in Arabic words and native Hindi speakers like istri for stri..

c) “ksha” becomes the simple “ksa”

And we have “a le ksa”

And yet ‘ksa’ is not a simple sound, due to the 2 consonants back to back. And it was kind of fun to watch Alexa acknowledge when summoned by a neighboring sound like ‘Laksha’.

And the ‘a’ of Alexa is kind of nonstandard across the globe. Indians for instance pronounce ‘a’ as in the beginning sound of ‘earth’ ‘us’ ‘ultimate’. Americans pronounce it with a big a stretch as like in ‘And’ ‘Actual’ ‘As’..

American Portal kind of expects an unwritten rule of soft ‘da’ for ‘ta’. Almost sounding ‘Pordal’. In ‘Cortona’, “ta” is almost like “cha” tending to “ta”. Another unwritten/unencoded rule of American accent.

And Siri tops this list as it is simple and needs no special training of sounds.. It is just Hey and Si Ri

Maybe there will be a day when you ask them about their names and they will have interesting stories to spin.

** This post has been written entirely based on the author’s Linguistic interest

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Sujatha R

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Music, Linguistics & Patterns