Did you know that a 47-sided shape is commonly referred to as a tetracontakaiheptagon?
It’s actually pretty funny, but still rather clever. I suppose people didn’t want to sit around giving names to every shape that might come along, so they invented a rule to name things based on their properties.
Unlike children, people only give special names to special numbers. It’s the same with most things that people have a lot of. Like serial numbers, they fill multipurpose roles: both identification and description.
So I think we could say that serial numbers are a kind of name.
We have a lot of people, too. I suppose early names were a sort of descriptor. Not many people go around naming their kids “male child of the one leader” anymore. Sure, it’s a mouthful, but being called “Eric” when you’ve never lived anywhere near a political figure is also incredibly unhelpful.
Of course, numbers themselves (the 1, 2, and 3) are also a kind of name for the abstractions they really represent, but they’re too sparse for the things we want to do with them. What if I wanted a word for the idea of a thing with four parts? “Quaternary” just sounds much better.
While it’s probably for the best, I wonder what the world might be like if no one had thought of naming things procedurally like this.
The International Union for Numerical Nomenclature was established in 1876 to help consolidate and standardize the naming of large quantities. When it began, it consisted simply of three college professors from all over the world, sitting at a large table, thinking of and writing down names they came up for various numbers. Now, it’s a multinational effort of thousands of top mathematicians and linguists churning out hundreds of names a day, all in the effort of scientific progress. You see, rigorous math isn’t possible without writing numbers down, and to write a number down it has to have a name.