Around the Block, Issue Nº20: NAMES featuring ENS, Handshake
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Around the Block, Issue Nº20: NAMES featuring ENS, Handshake

This issue is coming a week late as I spent some time in Santorini. Among other things, it allowed me to catch-up on reading, so in place of last week's issue, here is a tweet thread with all the relevant book reviews.

The Handshake Naming System was announced about a week ago and I think it's important to put it in the context of the history of naming.

If you're a visual person, feel free to skip to the table at the bottom.

The first names

The earliest recorded name for a person is believed to be “Kushim”, the signed name of a Sumerian accountant, found on a clay tablet that was used for trade settlement. The tablet is believed to be 5,000 years old. [1]

Later Roman and Greek names illustrate creative ways of forming names, for example Αλεξανδρος (Alexandros) “defender of mankind” exemplifies the practice of compound names. [2]

The next leap was made during the 11th century when surnames were introduced to help distinguish people with the same first name. Surnames were formed from various aspects like profession and location. [2]

Stepping back, these examples illustrate four benefits of naming, which include:

  • Completeness “everything has a name”
  • Human readability “everything has a readable name”
  • Uniqueness “no two names are the same”
  • Localization “names indicate where the resource can be found”

Completeness and Human readability were a must with early human names, but as populations and settlements grew, we learned to strive for uniqueness as well.


Perfect uniqueness was only achieved through identification systems. These systems today are often found in passports, but passports didn't begin as means to uniquely identify people; they were introduced to ascertain rights of safe passage as granted by a monarch.

The original passport was a letter issued for safe passage to a prophet in 450 BC, according to the Bible. This is the reason why the Queen still doesn't own a British passport. [3]

National identification numbers emerged after the passport for specific functional needs in different countries. For example, the Social Security Number in the US emerged to organize Social Security benefits and over time became the de facto identity standard. In this case, a range of services could benefit from an identification system that already had uniqueness.


Let's move on to consider the naming of computers, another important resource that created new possibilities and challenges.

The 1980s saw the arrival of ARPANET, which would manually assign network addresses to identify computers. Later on, the IP address system emerged and was managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) as part of iCANN. [4]

The IP address depended on working localization. Addresses were formed so that they could be used to geographically identify the location of the computer network. Even today, your physical IP address reveals a lot about your location, unless you are protected by a VPN.

Domain Name System

For identifying computers, IP achieved completeness, human readability and localization, but human-readability was missing. This became a problem when sending e-mails.

In 1982, a new domain format was proposed for e-mail addresses: [5]

The conclusion in this area was that the current “user@host” mailbox identifier should be extended to “user@host.domain” where “domain” could be a hierarchy of domains.
- J. Postel; Computer Mail Meeting Notes, RFC 805; 8 Feb 1982.

Initially the information was maintained locally in a HOSTS.txt file without a central authority, but soon the effort was centralized and then went through many iterations.

ENS and coupled systems

With wallets and smart contracts, we introduced a new class of resource into the world. This resource had identity built-in (via the hash), but a human-readable association was missing.

The general practice of naming a resource seems to always eventually involve two naming systems — one for completeness and uniqueness and another for human readability. The same solution is applicable to blockchains.

The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) solves that problem by allowing wallets to be associated with human readable names. This has significant benefits both in ease of use and also in preventing human error.


So what is Handshake and why is it important? Isn't ENS the conclusive answer to our naming problems?

Remember that the passport is a safe passage document. It allows others to trust that a specific individual is associated with the name and identity that they claim to have.

In DNS, the Certificate Authorities signify that a specific server is associated with the domain name. This authority element, analogous to the passport, is exactly what Handshake attempts to replace.

Below is my attempt at a crude summary of this model. Feedback and refinements very welcome!

To dive deeper into Handshake, I suggest reading their paper here.

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[1] R. Krulwich, “Who’s the First Person in History Whose Name We Know?”,, (accessed 10 August 2018).

[2] Name Stories, “History of Naming”,, (accessed 10 August 2018).

[3] L. Benedictus, “A brief history of the passport”,, (accessed 10 August 2018).

[4] APNIC, “History of the internet”,, (accessed 10 August 2018).

[5] Living Internet, “DNS History”,, (accessed 10 August 2018).