Project names

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What is a good name for a project? When you think this is a strange question, you might either not have done many projects, or you might be right.

Counter examples

We humans are more responsive to pain than to gain, so let's start with some pain:

kbshop01 ... kbshop15

Around 2018, I was busy building a new version of an existing webshop for a customer. It contained a lot of different things, including things like data cleansing, SKU creation, import automation, theme development, plus some of these things in an iterative way.

It probably started with a name like KbShop. That was fine for a while, until it became too big. I wanted to split it in subprojects, probably iteration-wise. Eventually it became something like KBshop01... KbShop15. Some problems that I had with this:

  • The dream of iterative working is such a sweet, sweet dream, but in reality it rarely works. E.g: KbShop01 might have been a real iteration, but the second iteration was everything from KbShop05 until KbShop15: The just wasn't a real second iteration anymore - I just didn't start afresh anymore after the second iteration
  • Names became useless: E.g., Kbshop06 was something about data analysis. Some years later I was wondering where I did this eye-opening data analysis job years ago. It took a lot of work to find it back, because KbShop06 wasn't a helpful name
  • This was not one project, but a bunch of projects that in certain ways, had little to do with each other. It was like there were three projects in that 2018, e.g.: Build a rocket, Do some brain surgery and KbShop. But only when diving deeper into KbShop, would I realize that it contained 8 major subprojects.


This made-up name could be an example of how I used to name objects in programming, including naming variables, around the beginning of this century. If names are complicated acronyms, they will be complicated to use:

  • Everytime when I have to use such a name, I have to do some serious thinking - The opposite of good ergonomics
  • Six months later, changes are that I wouldn't understand what the name stands for, and it would be very tempting to replace it with something simpler.


This is probably the least egregious of the examples here, but still problematic: Over six months, I might not know to what project or time such a name refers to - This would indicate that non-descriptive names would be a problem. More about that later.

It's also un uninspiring name.


What's the purpose of a project name?


As a Dutch expression puts it: Het beestje moet een naam hebben - The little animal needs a name. Or as I think the Bible puts it:to know something, call it by its name. Anyhow, a project needs a name, simply to be able to refer to it.

Short, distinct and intuitive names seem best here. Intuitive means that names are easy to remember, to pronounce and to write.

Example: A project called Finalize-de_de: This name isn't very intuitive for me, as I easily confuse it with some obvious alternatives:

  • Final-de
  • FinalDe
  • FinDE.

Some more examples:

  • ShopUp: Good!
  • Perf23: I think that including numbers, makes a name a bit harder to handle
  • AutomateAlot: Not very intuitive. It could easily be written in other ways.


It is important that names inspire. E.g.:

  • MoveStuffFromA2B vs. BigMoveA2B
  • BuildSite vs. LetsDoSiteLaunch
  • Refresh23 vs. Flywheel
  • AutomateAlot vs. DeusExMachina.


Maybe the most important function of a name: Helping to find it back, e.g, over 5 years. E.g.:

  • UpdateSite vs. SiteAcmeUpdate23
  • Flywheel vs. RefreshNL23

Note that this is easily at odds with inspiration or communication.


What are criteria for good names?


Intuitive means the same here as ergonomic or intuitive: That you don't have to do a lot of mental power to work with a name. E.g.:

  • GuPuarTwar → Para22.

One approach might be, to use unrelated words from a dictionary. E.g.: This is used in The Netherlands for naming large court cases, but also or naming diseases. E.g.:

  • Chinese flue → Corona

Not only does this result in ergonomic names, but also (hopefully) in judgement-free names.


See previous chapter.


It helps if a name is descriptive, eventhough it might not be too important.

When I look online for guidelines about good project names, this seems to be the least concern. Some decades ago, I had the same impression when I was researching good band names. Metallica is a descriptive name, but there aren't that many examples.


Maybe the surest way that projects don't get lost due to unhelpfull names: Use distinct names. E.g.:

  • UpdateSite → AcmeUpdateSite2023


  • This comes (for me) from something an old Greek guy said about taxonomy: What do things have in common, and what does set them apart. Names should have both these aspects
  • This is why I like using camel case or underscores in names.


I often change names of projects, which is really annoying. So choose a name that might not have a risk of being changed every couple of weeks. Like those names for large criminal cases in the Netherlands - They are timeless.

Maybe the trick here is to use more symbolic names, rather than descriptive names.

See also