The names get their meaning from a structure you still see in many other countries (Germany is a good example). Here you have research groups, where a lead professor has nearly complete control of hiring and the budget. The equivalents of assistant and associate reflect the temporary and permanent faculty members of those groups.
How does this affect graduate studies? In Germany a grad student joins a group and works within that group. In the United States a student joins a department usually without a specific advisor in mind and often not initially committing to a specific subfield of computer science.
So to those who send me and other American computer scientists requests to join our groups, the US system doesn't work that way. Instead go to the departmental web page and follow the appropriate links to find information on how to apply to that department. If you have a specific researcher that you want to work with, use the personal statement to say this and your reasons for it.
Trust me, we read the applications carefully and choose Ph.D. candidates as best as we can. It just doesn't help to send personal requests, I just point to our web page and trash the email.