Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Choosing Project Names

The discussion What' in a Project Name? over at Coding Horror reminded me of section 3.6.1 of my book Practical Development Environments:

Project names are usually chosen by engineering groups, with one name for each significantly different version of the products that they are working on. There should be no need to change a project's name once it has been chosen. Product names, on the other hand, are the names that customers see, and these names are usually chosen to help a product sell or to become popular. Product names can change at the whim of a market research poll or a new VP of Sales.

Some general guidelines for choosing names for projects are:

Keep it short

Since project names may appear in filenames or source code, shorter project names are preferable; four to six characters is common. Longer names will only be abbreviated anyway, and usually in two different ways.

Use distinctive sounds

Project names should sound different from each other when spoken aloud by people whose native language is not the one used by the rest of the group. Even if everyone speaks English, having two projects named "ctest" and "seebest" is too close for comfort.

Use low-frequency letters

It's much easier to be confident that all references to a project name can be found if the name contains characters that are less common in the local language. This is a good argument for choosing project names that use unusual characters, such as the letters q and z for English.

Apocryphal aside: a few years ago there was a project named IDS that apparently had a function named IDSConnect. Then the project was renamed DIS and all its functions were renamed accordingly, which led to their function for creating connections being renamed to DISConnect. The letters d, i, and s are too common in English to simply reuse them in
such an anagram.

Make it unmarketable

Sometimes a project name will be reused as a product name, but not if it is already trademarked, or if you make it odd or crude enough! Project names don't have to have a theme, though that can be fun. They don't even have to be meaningful, just memorable with an obvious way of pronouncing the word. You can choose a number of suitable names once and then let people decide which one they want to use next. Names of stars, types of sushi, rare diseases, and characters from comic books are some ideas to start with for project names.

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