Thursday, May 26, 2005

Etymology of “sernaferna”

sernaferna PermaPost

Since the name “sernaferna” is kind of unusual, I thought I’d post something to explain how I came by it. Frankly, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and the only reason I didn’t is that I couldn’t decide if I wanted to post the history of the name in chronological or reverse-chronological order. And I still haven’t decided, so I’m just going to start typing, and see where the keyboard takes me.

I guess we can start with pronunciation. Most people pronounce sernaferna incorrectly, and I can’t say that I blame them, because they pronounce it the way that it’s written. But it’s actually pronounced “sair'na fair'na”. You may think that this is a stupid way to pronounce it, but actually, the pronunciation came first.

So where did the pronunciation come from?

When I was a teenager, I was a counsellor at Kenesserie Camp, a Christian summer camp for kids. Because it was a Christian camp, we weren’t allowed to swear, so the counsellors decided to come up with a made-up word we could use in place of real swear words. Why? Well… who can explain the minds of teenagers?

Anyway, what we came up with was “sairna fairna”, or alternatively, “fairna sairna”. And voila, a couple of new words were born. But the first time I wanted to write these words down, I was stuck for how to spell them; I decided that “serna” and “ferna” would be good spellings for the words, and ever since everyone else has disagreed with me, much to my apathy.

So far so good; we’ve now covered the etymology of the phrase “serna ferna”. So why is it my internet name?

Actually, the reason is pretty simple: When I was signing up for high speed internet, I needed to pick a login name, and I couldn’t think of one for the life of me. All of the ones I would have wanted were already taken:
  • firstname lastname
  • firstname.lastname
  • firstinitial lastname
  • firstname lastinitial

So at this point, was was I to do?

It was then that my dormant memories kicked in, and I decided to use “sernaferna” for my name, since it was unlikely anyone else on the internet would use that name. And it’s true; if you search on Google for the word “sernaferna”, you’re only going to find references to me, or examples of XML documents using for a namespace—and those examples are used because hundreds of people have stolen them from my book, Beginning XML.

(As an aside, I’m pretty amazed that so many sites around the internet are giving tutorials on XML using examples from my book. It must have been pretty popular!)

So this is how I got the name sernaferna. Note that it’s all one word, like Cher, or Madonna, or Paris Hilton. But I, and others, often shorten it to “serna”, so this is perfectly acceptable.

And that’s where the name sernaferna comes from.