Alexa, meet Ziggy: How to mix and match Amazon Echo’s new name and voice options


Chris Monroe/CNET

What’s in a name? That which we call Alexa by any other name would sound as sweet. So, Alexa would, were Amazon’s voice assistant not Alexa called, instead be summoned with a new wake word — Ziggy.

Without much ado, Amazon recently added Ziggy to the list of words you can use to grab the attention of your Amazon Echo speaker or display. You can only choose one wake word per Echo device, but each Echo can be set to its own wake word, meaning you can now have an Alexa, a Ziggy, an Amazon, an Echo or a Computer all at your beck and call.

If you’ve grown weary of Alexa’s hitherto feminine-sounding voice, which up until now was the only choice you had, Amazon also unveiled a new masculine-sounding voice, which can — but doesn’t have to be — paired with Ziggy or any other wake word. 

In other words, the appearance of Ziggy concurrent with a masculine voice option should not be taken to imply that one belongs specifically with the other. Rather, you’re free to mix and match wake words with either of the two voices, and if you’ve got a bunch of Amazon Echos in your house, that’s at least one really good reason to do so.

However, that still doesn’t address the real question at the heart of Amazon’s recent smart speaker update: Who is Ziggy? For me, it’s evocative of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona — an alien androgyne from the future, sent to help Earth. Makes sense, right?

Oh boy, was I wrong. Ziggy, as a couple of Twitter denizens pointed out to me, is also the name of the computer on the TV show Quantum Leap. Interestingly, while characters referred to Ziggy throughout the series using masculine pronouns, when this fictional Ziggy was finally given a voice, it was voiced by a woman.

If you like, you can ask Alexa’s gender, and the voice assistant will explain, “As an AI, I don’t have a gender.”

Now, before anyone tweets about the three celebrity voice options you can pay to put on your Amazon Echo device — Samuel L. Jackson, Melissa McCarthy and Shaquille O’Neal — those add-ons don’t replace everything Alexa says (the way the new voice option does), just a few select responses — like weather, timers and some goofy, personality-specific questions. 

Whether you think a masculine-sounding voice and the name Ziggy are a quantum leap forward in gender equity or you’re just really into cha-cha-cha-changes, here’s how to swap voices and wake words on your Amazon Echo speaker or display.

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Amazon’s voice assistant lives on all sorts of Echo smart speakers, displays and even earbuds.


David Carnoy/CNET

Switch your Echo’s wake word to Ziggy like this

The wake word is the name you say to activate Amazon’s digital voice assistant; the default wake word is Alexa. The steps are the same regardless of which option you want to change it to. There’s the easy way — say, “Alexa [or whatever your current wake word is], change your wake word” and then respond to one of the choices the voice assistant gives you. Then there’s the slower way:

1. Open the Alexa app, then tap Devices on the bottom menu bar, tap Echo & Alexa at the top, then tap the name of the device that you want to change the wake word for.

2. Tap the Settings (gear) icon in the upper right corner, then scroll down and tap Wake Word, then tap the one you’d like to use.

3. A popup will warn you it may take a few minutes to take effect — tap OK.

Swap your Echo’s voice (using any wake word) like this

Just like with the wake word, there’s a voice command to change Alexa’s voice — “Alexa, change your voice.” Your Echo device will confirm that it’s using the new voice. If you change to the masculine-sounding voice, you’ll be told how to change the wake word as well. Or you can do it in Settings:

1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 from above, but instead of Wake Word, tap Alexa’s Voice.

2. Choose between Original (feminine-sounding) and New (masculine-sounding), then simply back out of that setting.

There you have it — you still don’t have a lot of options (Google Assistant, for example, has several voices to choose from, although only one possible wake word), but you’ve got more now than ever before.



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