Harnessing the hive mind

I need your help naming a virus.

The book I’m currently outlining revolves around a viral epidemic and I’m struggling to come up with an awesome name for it.

From my research, it appears that virus names come from all sorts of places, including the geographic locations where they’re first spotted (Lassa virus, first identified in a nurse in Lassa, Nigeria), the individuals who study them (Epstein-Barr virus, a herpes virus named after Michael Epstein and Yvonne Barr, who identified and documented it), the family or type of virus to which they belong (BSE, which causes Mad Cow: bovine spongiform encephalitis), or a from a description of their effects on the body (HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus).  Sometimes other factors play into the name; when Hanta virus was first identified it was called Sin Nombre (without name).

I don’t want to say too much, as this project is Top Secret, but for my book I’m developing a retrovirus (similar to HIV) that spreads via infected blood cells and (literally) causes an internal transformation within the host.  Right now I’m calling it Kinshasa Viral Metamorphosis (KVM), but I’m not sure I really love this name (nor am I wedded to the viral origin being the Democratic Republic of Congo).

All I care about is having at least some combination of the following:

1. a cool sounding name that abbreviates well

2. a name that lends itself to a nickname for the infected (here’s where I worry my current name breaks down; the only nickname I can think of of is “shasies”, which I fear is lame).

3. a name that implies the victims are changed in a fundamental way

4. a name that alludes to the fact that – beyond its general class (retrovirus) and its spreading mechanism (blood-borne) – the virus is poorly understood

So, here’s where you can help.  I need an awesome virus name with an equally awesome nickname for the infected.  There are many details I haven’t settled on yet (including the names of the people who documented the virus or where it originated), so feel free to use the comments to propose any and all ideas that come to mind.

Please, and thank you!

9 thoughts on “Harnessing the hive mind

  1. Darice Moore

    Looking at your current name (should it be KVT rather than KVM?), you could go with Kin. As in, the infected are all “Kin.” But this may imply a family feeling that isn’t there among your virally transformed victims. 😉

    For a slight tweak, Kinshasa Viral Conversion might work, and you could call your victims “Converts.” Again, this depends on the nature of your viral victims.

    For a more comic effect, you could name it after the person, then base the nickname of the victims on the person’s name (e.g., victims of Robertson’s Viral Transformation are “the bobs,” victims of Longomba’s Viral Transformation are “the gombies,” etc.). (Yes, I was scrabbling through lists of Congolese people to find a Congolese name to give to your putative scientist.)

    Oh, and there’s also naming the virus after the animal it came from (which may or may not apply — and may or may not be correct) — Canine Viral Transformation could have victims called CaVis or just Cavs. (Not sure that this is much better than Shasies, but I haven’t had enough coffee yet to really get going.)

    1. mirandasuri

      Hi Darice – thanks for the suggestions! (and, whoops, I had a typo…I meant to write Kinshasa Viral Metamorphosis, not transformation). Thanks for suggesting some nicknames. In a way, I feel like actually that’s much harder than coming up with a cool virus name.

  2. seamusbayne


    I think that using transformation in the name is probably out of character with how viruses are named. You would use some kind of obscure term which was specifically chosen to NOT sound scary. Doctors didn’t name Syphillis, “Genital pox” for example. They would name it something innocuous, or if it is going to be scary they would us latin. Examples might be mutatio or novo. I especially like novo. Kinshasa novo retrovirus or KNR.

    I think Kinshasa has some possibility because you could call them then the Kin. Which is kind of cool, it has a social structure feel to it, or a sense of relationship among each other which alienates the rest of humanity from them.

    Just my thoughts.


  3. Micah Joel

    The literary geek in me is tempted to slip in some kind of Kafka reference, even if once or twice removed. Maybe the nickname for victims is “Samsas”, thought that might be too on-the-nose.

    I like the earlier ideas about an understated name for the virus. Morphology Altering Retrovirus or something like that.

  4. Anonymous

    What is unknown is far more terrifying than the known. Don’t name the virus until deep within the storyline. Let the reader experience the emotion of an awful mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

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