The essential guide to choosing good project names

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 3 June 2019
How to name things

“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 cool 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
  • Avoid uninspiring names 
  • Consider the readability of your name

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 name ideas.

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.

M&A project code names 

Yes, even banks have their fun with deal names, particularly when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. 

One example from Reuters' hilarious list of popular M&A project names is 'Project Rocky'. Amusingly, Project Rocky illustrates the battle the German and UK stock exchange bosses went through to push a $30 billion merger. However, their stockholders were unconvinced, Brexit unfortunately got in the way, and the European antitrust chief blew the deal to shreds. 

Brilliantly ironic, isn't it?

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)

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[Editor's note: This blog was originally written in 2017 and has since been updated in January 2020]

See also: project names

Related service: Marketing Strategy