How do you choose codenames for projects?


I often find myself wasting a lot of time finding the perfect name for my projects and checking domain name availability before I even start to really work on it. I guess this is the wrong way to go about it since the project is likely to change during its development and the original name might no longer reflect what you're working on.

This brings the following questions:

  • Do you use codenames for projects ?
  • If so, how do you choose them ?
  • Is it better to find an actual product name first ?

Subjective Naming Project Planning

asked Jan 4 '10 at 11:44
Olivier Lalonde
2,753 points
  • Maybe I'll give you a sneak-peak at Project Hedgehog, my attempt at a project that generates names from secret projects... – Jason 14 years ago
  • I guess you generated the project's code name with itself. :D – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago

13 Answers


If it really is a "code name," that means it's not the public name of the product.

That means it doesn't matter what you pick.

That means you can pick things e.g. that are funny or weird or just easy to type. Don't have to worry e.g. domain names. You could just have PROJNAME.MYCOMPANY.COM and it's fine.

If you're worried that the name will cease to be descriptive, then pick a name that didn't mean anything to being with. That is, "Project Lightbulb" doesn't mean anything, therefore it will never go out of style for that project.

If you pick something descriptive (e.g. "Ad Optimizer") but it turns out to be something different (e.g. "Food Processor"), that's indeed bad because rather than connoting nothing it's connoting something wrong.

Knowing you don't know is better than thinking you know when you don't know, you know?

answered Jan 4 '10 at 12:19
16,231 points
  • +1. Although I lost you at "Knowing you don't know [...]" :D – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago


Ask an uninvolved person to pick a random name If it's a secret project, that is.

Our backbone for the Japan handyphone backbone was "Project Elm" courtesy of our secretary.

answered Jan 4 '10 at 16:41
Mark Harrison
211 points


I like to use names of ex-girlfriends. My wife hates it but I always seem to find a way to associate the personality of an ex to the type of project I'm code-naming.

answered Jan 4 '10 at 16:08
Joe A
1,196 points
  • Good one ! I don't have a wife yet so I'm safe ;) – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago


Internally we call projects as Star Wars characters until it gets a public name.

answered Sep 26 '10 at 10:24
331 points
  • Thats funny, I use X-Men names... – Avi D 13 years ago


We use code names a lot at my gig. It drives our marketing guy nuts but as long as we don't make them public, he's fine with it.

We usually pick a broad theme and have all of our names match the theme. Right now, it's birds or bird parts (It's a long story). Other naming conventions I have used are:

  • Only two syllable words with the company stock symbol in them.
  • Names of beer and cars.
  • Names of mountain ranges
  • Planets

  • 80's Hair Rock Bands (Again, long story).
  • Insects

Actual product names should be left to marketing. They have to sell it so they should make some fancy name that inspires customers to buy.
answered Jan 4 '10 at 14:20
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points
  • +1. Other themes I've seen are greek mythology and famous scientists. – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago


Agree with above comments that code names don't need to be permanent (and don't need domain availability).

What I like to do is come up with a "theme" for codenames for projects.

For example: Large rivers (Amazon, Nile, etc.). Major cities (Athens, Rome, etc.). Casinos in Las Vegas. Predatory animals.

The nice thing about this approach is that you make the decision once (picking the theme) and then you have enough constraints that all code names or project names from then forward become easier.

answered Jan 4 '10 at 15:27
Dharmesh Shah
2,865 points
  • Just make sure the casino isn't defunct (ie imploded by demolition crew). It may set a bad precedent if your code name a project Stardust or Dunes or one of the other has been hotels. – Joe A 14 years ago


If you just need a "working title" for the project, just choose a really short phrase that describes what the product is. As you develop and refine it, you can then choose something that better reflects what the product became.

If you want to use a "code name", then your best bet is to just open a dictionary to a random page and select a random word. Works as well as any other system.

answered Jan 4 '10 at 11:58
4,692 points
  • Thanks. I wasn't aware of the term "working title" which describes well what I am looking for. – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago
  • +1 for working title – Herr K 12 years ago


Yes - code names are important! They should be used for any projects where secrecy prior to launch or prior to a deal being signed is important. I've used code names on M&A transactions, major outsourcing deals, and new products.

This lets you, your partners, your suppliers, and others communicate about the project more comfortably and securely.

We are using a code name now for our start up's offering. We use this for all internal and external communication. We chose a code name which has zero to do with our real offering but which does have the same number of letters as our actual brand so that we can do treatments, page layouts, etc. Another way to choose code names is to make this a bit of a fun contest for project team members.

I'd suggest starting with a code name for a project so that you can communicate with your team, investors, partners, etc., and then worry about the real brand name as you progress with the project.

answered Jan 4 '10 at 23:45
Warren E. Hart
2,181 points


I'm a big fan of WWII-History so I chose codenames by matching them to WWII operations or vehicles/devices. For example:

I was developing a specialized script that would seek a certain goal, so i named it after an acoustic torpedo G7es.

Now i'm developing a CMS that will cover all "general" script needs of my clients, so it's the general purpose panzer of the Wehrmacht so i named it after the Panther Tank. The elite version of the CMS is named after the bigger version of the Panther Tank, the Königstiger.

You can imagine the rest :)

answered Oct 17 '11 at 20:16
Herr K
292 points


  • Yes, I use codename for projects exactly for the reason the project changes during development.
  • I choose names by generalizing them. For example a program that forecasts sales will be just "forecast". Then I can use the name if I choose to switch to forecasting web views.

You can use some list of names of objects, for example List of proper names of stars.
Then nobody will know what "Epsilon Orionis" means but it looks cool.

answered Sep 26 '10 at 16:41
2,288 points


I agree that choosing the perfect name is a tempting diversion from the critical path. So in general, I'd say the one rule is to pick a code name you can never imagine using in public.

But beware: codenames do have a habit of sticking. People get attached to them, or they just never find the time to sort out naming. I once worked for a company that had low visibility in the market, but its core products were called things like 2100 - a system code that stuck. Hard to measure the impact, but it's clear that there are occasions when 'name leak' will hurt your marketing effectiveness.

The middle way is to kick off under a code name, and make sure the naming task is given high prominence whatever its priority. That way, the adoption of the market name can mark an important transition stage for the team.

answered Jan 25 '11 at 01:55
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points


What if you ask the first person you see for the first word that comes to his head? I've tried this before and it usually works pretty well and makes for a funny story.

answered Jan 25 '11 at 02:12
Andy Cook
2,309 points


I agree with the above posts. I follow a similar approach as stated by dharmesh. I will have a "theme" in which I use to pull names from. It makes for some pretty interesting names sometimes. If you are looking for something totally random, I would suggest using some name generation site to generate your name. There are hundreds of these "Web 2.0 name generator" sites out there that can generate you lots of random, quirky names like: copperfox, silvervine, yonic.....and you get the point.

answered Sep 27 '10 at 06:53
333 points

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