name tag

How to Name Smart Home Devices

How you name your Smart Home devices has a subtle and significant impact on the Voice Assistant experience. If you’re not careful with naming, your Voice Assistant won’t work the way you intend with your device. Understanding why naming is so important will help you make sure your Voice Assistant understands what you want and which device you want it from. let’s figure out the right way to name Smart Home Devices.

When you’re setting a Smart Home device up for the first time, you’ll be presented with a screen like this with a name field:

Home App Device Name Screenshot
iOS Home App Setting Screen

Sometimes the name is already populated for you with something like “Light” or something else that’s pretty generic. Since the manufacture gave that default, you might be inclined to keep it, or you may have set that as the name anyway. After all, it is a light, right?

DON’T USE THAT NAME!

What you name your new device has a huge impact on your experience with Voice Assistants. By using a name that describes what type/category your device is, like “Light” or “Switch” or “Lock”, you’ve added a ton of confusion to your Voice Assistant. This means there’s a much larger chance for your Voice Assistant to misunderstand what you really want it to do.

I’ve seen many users, like my wife, run into this problem time and time again. They become so frustrated that they give up on Voice Assistants or Smart Home tech all together. To understand why this is a problem, you’ll need a bit of knowledge of how Voice Assistants work in the background.

How Voice Assistants Understand Smart Device Names

One day, Voice Assistants will be clever enough to read your mind. But for now, they don’t have the sophistication to understand what you would like it to do in all cases.

By using generic names like “Light”, you’re adding different ways that a word can be interpreted by your Voice Assistant. This is because Voice Assistants have a notion of a device name and a device type. So by naming your first light bulb “Light”, your Voice Assistance doesn’t know if you’re referring to the device name “Light” or the device type light.

Let’s go though an example of how a Voice Assistant can understand a command like “turn on the light”. In this command, we (the user) want to turn on something called “Light”. But how does the Voice Assistant understand what the word “Light” refers to? We could have several different intentions.

  1. Pick all devices that are Smart Lights
  2. Maybe all devices that are named “Light”
  3. Or all devices with names that are like the word light, like “Lamp” or “Ceiling Light”
  4. And finally, maybe all devices that can turn on, like Smart Plugs and Smart Switches

The frustrating part of this problem is all of the above options could be the right interpretation, depending on the user. So each Voice Assistant has a different way to choose what you mean. Sometimes Voice Assistants can use other signals to help make the decision, like what room you’re in, or what device you’re speaking to. But it’s difficult to rely on these signals alone as naming gets harder with the more Smart Home devices you have.

Generally speaking, if a person would have reasonable doubt as to what you mean, your Voice Assistant will have even more trouble with it.

OK, General Names Are Bad, But What Should I Name My Lights?

The short answer is anything but the device type. The more specific you can be, the better. This ensures you get the best experience and Voice Assistants know what you’re targeting.

There are some patterns that could make your life easier. For example, say you have a new Smart Light. You put this light bulb in a lamp fixture in your bedroom on a table next to the your bed. What should the name be?

Naming by Location: Location isn’t a bad strategy. The more specific you can be, the better. How about “Left Bedside Lamp”.

Naming by Owner: Who really uses the Lamp? For example, it could be “John’s Lamp”.

Naming by Nick Name: This method is the safest, and it lets you come up with whatever name you’d like, such as Bat Cave*”.

Batman Approves Of This Naming Pattern

Naming gets pretty tricky as you get more devices. Try combining the above strategies to come up with other naming patterns, like John’s left bedside Lamp”. I’m sure there are some other clever naming patterns out there. Let me know yours in the comments below!

*Try this with Alexa, you might get a surprising response.

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