A New Model for the Naming of COVID-19 Variants


The rapid appearance of new COVID-19 variants such as Omicron has caused a naming crisis that threatens to overwhelm scientists, health officials, educators, and the public. Our research indicates that alternative terminological models, based upon already accepted linguistic templates, are more likely than the current Greek alphabetic system to find general favor and staunch fears concerning a pending “nomenclature gap.”


The Omicron variant has caused an international emergency: No one can pronounce it. And those who can are anxious about what to call succeeding variants. Alphabetically, the next should be Pi, but since every school child knows that’s also the name of the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, the name is likely to trigger alarm in mathematics classrooms. After Pi comes Sigma — easy to say but also notable for its use by many fraternities and sororities. University presidents are already concerned that celebrations of the coincidence will become super-spreader events. Moreover, because there are only nine more letters in the Greek alphabet after Omicron, there looms a Covid appellation shortfall.


The authors therefore propose a new model for the naming of Covid variants based upon an already widely accepted system of nomenclature: Three-letter acronyms. In addition to its mnemonic value, the model we propose provides important information about the nature of the variant, serving the cause of prophylaxis. For example, the current Omicron variant, according to the new system, will be renamed OMG, retaining phonetic resemblance to the original designation but also highlighting the panic it has caused. The sample acronyms listed below are in alphabetical order but would be selected based upon their epidemiological salience.

Supporting examples and discussion:

AIG – high net worth individuals are unaffected by this variant

AMA – especially dangerous to Medicaid patients and the uninsured

CIA – overthrows the immune system, often fatal

CNN – induces drowsiness and political complacency

CRT – triggers moral panic, frequent co-morbidity with GOP variant (see below)

DNC – self-destructs every November

GOP — microchip resistant, treatable with bleach, ivermectin, and ultraviolet light

ICE — cage shaped proteins, especially impacts immigrant children

KFC – causes rapid weight gain

MBS – potentially fatal to journalists

PDF — difficult to gene edit

PHD – renders patients unable to find work and deep in debt

UPS – few apparent symptoms but damages internal cell structure

WTF – unpredictable symptomatology

A picture containing text, cake, indoor, decoratedDescription automatically generated

Microscopic photograph of the prospective ICE variant of COVID-19. Photos: CDC and DHS.


The rapidly spreading COVID-19 variant, dubbed Omicron, has caused a terminological crisis that is unsustainable at current educational levels. Absent mass tutelage in Greek, a new system of variant-naming is called for, one that is easily understood, aids biomedical research in the search for cure, and reminds the public that it is the working class than suffers most from capitalist-induced pandemics.

Stephen F. Eisenman is Professor Emeritus of Art History at Northwestern University and the author of Gauguin’s Skirt (Thames and Hudson, 1997), The Abu Ghraib Effect (Reaktion, 2007), The Cry of Nature: Art and the Making of Animal Rights (Reaktion, 2015) and many other books. He is also co-founder of the environmental justice non-profit,  Anthropocene Alliance. He and the artist Sue Coe and now preparing for publication part two of their series for Rotland Press, American Fascism Now. Ben Schacht is an independent scholar and freelance editor. He completed his PhD in comparative literature at Northwestern University in 2019. He blogs at benschacht.com