How to name things

The essential guide to choosing good project names

“There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.” – Phil Karlton

Names have power. They indicate tone and the intent. They can, if chosen well, inspire and unify action. They’re an important part of a company’s brand and tone of voice. That’s why branding consultants are so highly paid, if not always highly valued.

This article contains essential tips for choosing a cool name and you can also try our free name generator if you need extra inspiration.

Articulate's free project name generator

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Try your hand at creating your next project (or product) name with this spiffy name generator! Project Jive-theory is just around the corner...

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Naming guides

There are many routes to choosing good project names, for example: 

  • Turn to naming guides
  • Look at past project names
  • Get inspiration from other places
  • Don't panic or overthink it

I have always found Igor’s Naming Guide to be very helpful guidance for coming up with good product and company names. (Read how I picked Articulate as a name for an example. My colleague Katelyn also has some good advice on how to choose a great name.)

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Even with small, internal projects a good name can be a useful tool. And that is what this article is about: choosing good project names.

Right now, at Articulate, we have the following projects underway:

  • Bay Bridge – refactoring this website to improve conversions
  • Mini-Ninja – refactoring our HubSpot landing pages, emails and calls-to-action
  • Moonshot – documenting and improving our sales process

Code names from the past

The most common use of code names is for military operations. We British have uninspiring names. For example, Operation Herrick (Afghanistan) and Operation Granby (Gulf War I) sound more like Monty Python names than operations of war. Apparently there’s a computer in the MOD building in Whitehall that spits out random names. Personally, I like to imagine that it’s actually an elderly civil servant who spends his days setting crossword puzzles until he’s called on for a random name.  In contrast, after a period of automation, American code names since 1989 have been designed for PR value as much as obscurity – Desert Shield and Just Cause, for example. There’s an interesting list of US codenames online here.

Great sources for project names

Here are some other interesting sources of names:

Don't panic!

But once you pick a name, avoid the name-changing fidgets and be wary of using the names of real, living people.

Project names: example of name builder

What do you use? How do you come up with names? Please share your suggestions!

(h/t Stack Overflow for the Phil Karlton quote and Russell Davies for the book naming image)
Updated 2 January 2019 with project name generator.

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Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing. Writer, marketer, pilot, wine enthusiast and geek. Not necessarily in that order. Never at the same time.