Pipenaming is a ritual with everyone I've ever smoked with. You never know the name of a pipe (or bong or what have you; I will refer to all smoking devices as "pipes" in this document) for sure until you smoke out of it the first time, and on rare occasions, not even then. Sometimes a pipe is picked out of the mass with a name in mind, but it is not official until the device is smoked out of and the name is found to fit the pipe.
How do you know if a name fits a pipe, or what the name of your just-smoked-out-of-for-the-first-time pipe will be? "The bong names itself, and will let you know its name when the time is right." A big part of it is intuition and inspiration. After enjoying the tobacco out of your new pipe, sit around and examine the pipe with a couple friends. Talk about its shape, colors, texture, bowl size, or the story of how you came to possess it. Discuss how this pipe may be a big or small part of your lives and think about the type of hit one gets from it (dense or thin? harsh or smooth? lip-smackin'-good or licking an ashtray?). Sooner or later, something will strike you as The Perfect Name For This Pipe. Usually, a group of people discussing a pipe will come up with The Perfect Name in not too much time. Occasionally, a few days, a week or longer may pass before the pipe's rightful name is discovered, but this seems to be quite rare (but more common among unusual pipes or big, elaborate, expensive bongs). Even constructed pipes like gravity bongs or waterfall bongs may have names, though the less frequently used ones are less likely to have a name.
The name does not have to include a reference to tobacco or the culture that goes along with it, although it is common and usually amusing. Often the name will reflect a situation involving the purchase, travels or adventures the pipe goes through before its naming, or perhaps a pun of some sort about its looks or tobacco aficionado culture. Sometimes the name has nothing to do with anything; it's just something funny someone said while the pipe was being named. Often pipes will have long complicated names, and so a nickname may develop to refer to it in common usage.
A few examples of pipe names:
(my pipes, past and present)
- Mr. Tiny: my first pipe, a very small metal screw-together pipe
- Polliwoggaschnappolis (nickname: Polly): she looked like a polliwog and the pipenaming occurred after a cousin and I downed a bottle of peppermint schnapps; Polly was ruthlessly stolen from my dorm room
- Eeyore: a glass bubbler hammer with a blue squiggly design on the front that reminded me of the character from Winnie the Pooh
- Canada: a red-and-white striped spoon purchased in a tobacco supply store in Montreal; sadly Canada is no longer with us
- Harry Hood (nickname: Harry): a thick color-changing spoon, named after a Phish song; sadly Harry was stolen too
- Pierre l'Enfant: a thin elegant sherlock bubbler with a slide, named after the man who designed Washington, D.C.
- Chameleon: a color-changing one hitter
- Toad: Harry's successor, a bumpy yellow-and-green spoon
- Hale-Bopp: a spoon shaped and colored somewhat like a comet
- Konkani: a bong made out of a coconut, named after a civilization in which coconut is central to life and a provider of the people's needs
- Nefertari: my first "real" bong, named after one of Egypt's most beloved queens, wife of Rameses II
- Flash Gourdon: a huge ceramic/glass bong, who's been described as both "a shark bite in the lungs" and "really painful sex"
- Jabberwock (later renamed Stondie Foster): a very thick bubbler hammer, named after the creature in Lewis Carroll's poem "The Jabberwocky" and lated named after Jodie Foster (both for unknown reasons)
- Wegal: a glass bong, named after the phrase "What would head shops be like if leed was wegal" (its slide was named Leed)
- Dr. Gargles, Ph.D: a cheap acrylic bong that first came with an übertiny bowl (the B.A.), which I upgraded to the bigger bowl of Mr. Tiny (the M.A.) before we found a much bigger bowl (the Ph.D.); Dr. Gargles was accidentally thrown out one day (not by me!)
- Dr. Manhattan: Dr. Gargles' successor, named after a character in the comic Watchmen
- Biggerstaff: a foot-long half-steamroller-half-spoon glass pipe, named after a friend's obsession with Sean Biggerstaff
- The Walrus: see the Carpenter
- The Carpenter: see the Eldest Oyster; sadly the Carpenter is no longer with us
- The Eldest Oyster (nickname: ThEO): The Walrus, the Carpenter and the Eldest Oyster are three fantastic glass bubblers named after a friend's favorite part of Alice in Wonderland
- Mr. Anderson: a blue glass spoon, tribute to a friend who always wears blue whose last name is Anderson; also a reference to The Matrix
- Jamie Anderson: a red metal screw-together pipe, named after The Bionic Woman
- Phantom: Someone O. Rother's bong, "the actual name came about from the fact that it was a) see-through, much like a ghost, and b) smoking from Phantom always made the effects creep up on you, stealthily, like...a phantom in the night."
Though pipes can be sold from smoker to smoker, I believe the name should not be changed similar to how renaming a boat brings bad luck. Also, every pipe I've ever known named after a Phish song or has either broken or been stolen/confiscated (Harry Hood was stolen, Icculus broke, Wilson was confiscated, etc.), so you might want to stay away from names related to Phish. YMMV.
I had not heard that this practice dates back to Half Baked (as an old node suggested), but it makes sense. Rarely these days do I meet someone with a nameless pipe, and we usually come up with a good name in a few minutes.