Naming this startup was one of many tasks to be done in the last two months, as plans were underway. Our team didn’t spend a lot of time debating, figuring we could always rename it at some point if we needed or wanted to. When pursuing a really big goal, you can’t get bogged down on any one step.
I love the idea of the binary mindset from Stephen Guise’s wonderful book How to be an Imperfectionist. With the binary mindset, you rate success on a task as having done it or not (binary: zero or one) rather than how well you did it (analog: a rating on some continuous numeric scale).
On a binary evaluation, we succeeded in our task of naming the company. We chose a name! We registered the domain! We set up a Google Workspace with email addresses! Team incantata exists in the world now.
You might ask, as so many have, “where did the name come from? what does it mean?”
Throughout my data science career, people often said that data science is or should be magical. Seemed like more often than not in any given particular whiteboarding session with data science in the room, someone would draw a wizardly gnome as the data science team’s step in the flowchart. This gnome was always labeled magic happens here.
Regrettably, much of the data science I’ve done in the past hasn’t felt too magical. That’s one main reason I started this company–to do some magic! The word incantata suggests the word “incantations.” Natural language processing, the main form of artificial intelligence we’ll be using at incantata.ai, at this point involves no real language understanding on the part of the machine. NLP functions kind of like magical spells, nonsensical in a way, but powerful in its nonsense. I think of the initial AI capabilities we’ll build as incantations.
enchanting, delightful, spellbound
The word incantata might remind you of the Spanish word encantada, meaning enchanted. They’re both from the Latin word incantare, which means to cast a spell. In Romanian, incantata is translated (at least online) as delighted. It’s our goal to delight and enchant all users of the incantata.ai system, whether they are people wanting coaching or counseling, or the coaches and counselors who work with them.
Incantata is also the name of a 1994 poem by Irish poet Paul Muldoon. The poem was turned into a theatre show a couple years ago. Muldoon wrote the poem about his grief over losing his partner, the artist Mary Farl Powers, to cancer when she was just 43. Maybe it is too much of a leap to say that the poem, a “nearly perfect synthesis of formal construction and emotional content” reflects what we intend to do with our system: combine formal structure with emotional meaning. And yet, that’s exactly what we intend. We plan to augment formal worksheet-style construction with human-driven emotionally meaningful insights.
This review of Muldoon’s collection Poems 1968-1998 says “Muldoon has enfranchised a whole generation of poets, by freeing them into his own brand of linguistic euphoria.” While I doubt that the incantata.ai coaching system will ever produce linguistic euphoria, I’m not opposed to considering the poetic an important element in what we do. Poetry distills, enlightens, imagines, empathizes, produces glittering or piercing or motivating insight. We hope for the incantata system to do all these things, someday. But only in service of human relationships, with the mission to improve people’s emotional and mental functioning.
So here are three things the name incantata holds out to me aspirationally: magic, delight, and poetry. I suppose most software doesn’t embody those, but I hope ours will.