People called Alexa want Amazon to change its virtual assistant’s name

Technology

The prevalence of Amazon’s various Echo devices means most people now associate the word Alexa with the virtual assistant. For those with the same name, especially children, it can lead to bullying and constant jokes, leading to calls for Amazon to change its famous wake word.

As reported by the BBC, people called Alexa have to endure repeated jokes in which others shout their names before speaking a command. One parent said her teenage daughter received endless abuse from other children and even teachers after she started secondary school because of her name.

“She started to not want to introduce herself because of the jokes and the backlash. She was and still is a child, yet adults thought it was OK to make a joke of her. It’s devastating. The school was unhelpful and told her she needed to build resilience.”

With the name-calling having an effect on her daughter’s mental health, the mother legally changed Alexa’s name.

“She’s in a much better place now. We have cut off friends and moved her to a new school to allow a fresh start. The injustice will never leave her, or us. Amazon must change the default wake word on its devices. There was clearly not enough ethical research into using Alexa.”

Lauren Johnson, from Massachusetts, has started a campaign called Alexa is a Human. “My daughter Alexa is nine now. The whole thing is a step beyond ‘normal’ teasing and bullying. It’s identity erasure. The word Alexa has become synonymous with servant or slave. It gives people a licence to treat people with the name Alexa in a subservient manner.” She added that for many older children, a lot of Alexa jokes can be sexual in nature.

The popularity of the name Alexa has fallen since the arrival of Amazon’s devices. In the UK and Wales, it was the 167th most common name back in 2016 when they were first introduced to the United Kingdom. By 2019, it had fallen to 920th.

Amazon says it is saddened by the reports and condemns bullying of any kind. It notes that users can use alternative wake works, but campaigners say most people don’t realize this, and it’s unlikely to stop the association.

People with the same names as other voice assistants also run into these problems, though there are a lot fewer Siris and Cortanas in the world than Alexas.