ESSAY | What's In A Wi-Fi Name?

An obsessive search for Spokane's wireless connections

Sometime in March I stumbled upon something that would lure me out of my comfort zone.

I had just gotten an iPod Touch and suddenly all I could see was a world of apps. Unable to resist the lure of Instagram, I tried to find a Wi-Fi connection while the bus was stalled at a red light. I'd be connected for 30 seconds or fewer, but those glorious moments would be worth it.

Wi-Fi networks popped up on my screen, including "FBISurveillanceVan2." Why would the FBI make their surveillance van so visible? Wasn't the whole point to be undercover? And what was going on near Washington State University's downtown campus that the FBI needed to monitor? Obviously this was a joke. Nice one, "FBISurveillanceVan2."

Soon, my obsessive search for wireless connections throughout town was teaching me a lot about Spokane. Or at least a lot about the collective sense of humor of different Spokane neighborhoods.

Wi-Fi routers come with a default network name or service set identifier (SSID), but people change them for a number of reasons: for security purposes, to be able to remember which network is theirs, and primarily, it seems, to broadcast their witty name to whomever might try to poach some free Internet.

As far as guidelines for creating a new SSID, Apple doesn't think being cute is the way to go. They recommend not using personal information and "keeping your network name boring so people won't be tempted to try and access it." On the other hand, Kerry Zimmer, marketing and development manager for CenturyLink in Spokane, reports that as long as people don't use their last name or Social Security number, they don't see a lot of fraud with people trying to hack into a secured network, leaving plenty of room for creativity.

I eased into my research, by which I mean I started walking around Spokane with my iPod up to my face, looking for new Wi-Fi names to appear on my screen. In my first outing to the Logan neighborhood, I got what must have been the wit of the college set: '"Ghettobut$potless," "PartyPalace" and "#BasicBitches."

Soon I removed the shield of my iPod Touch and asked passersby if they had a minute. Zachary Lutes, who lives on the South Hill, named his Wi-Fi network "Palestinian Honeypot" as a passive act of self-defense.

"[It] isn't really an inviting name," he says. "A honeypot URL is a malicious URL that if it gets idly pinged... it will begin hacking [the] system, and one of the major places where they use a honeypot system is Palestine."

Neighborhood by neighborhood, I found more and more creative Wi-Fi names. Browne's Addition is particularly welcoming, with networks named "CuddlePuddle" and "Mustache Rides." It's also home to "Router? I hardly know her."

Other SSIDs are just plain mean: "justgetyourown" and "NoFreeWiFiForYou." Some even use their SSIDs to make political statements. I'm looking at you, "City-of-Nepotism." And somewhere along Mission Avenue, you'll see a network called "Password is Taco." Don't be fooled: the password is not taco. ♦

Sculpted Spaces, Wild Lives @ Third Street Gallery

Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 7
  • or