Here’s what’s in a nameAuthor: Trevor Jobling
At the start of every project I place a brief but concerted focus on what to call the system under development.
Why is a good name important?
- It promotes clear communication between stakeholders, and clarity is a Dovetail core value. I worry when a generic term like “the system” is used in a meeting – inevitably somebody is left wondering “Which system exactly?”
- It gives the nascent software system its own identity. This helps stakeholders to engage with the project even though it may still be abstract to them. They can visualise the solution better when it has a name, leading to more creativity and thorough analysis.
So what makes a good name? Here are my suggestions:
- It should be unique rather than generic. If it stands out a little it helps give the new system its own personality.
- It should be a single word, so short that it never occurs to anyone to abbreviate it in speech or writing. This promotes consistent use by being the easiest way to refer to the new system.
- Its pronunciation should be unambiguous. This removes the fear of saying it “wrong”, another barrier to universal adoption.
- Don’t try to describe the project in its name. You will probably end up with something cumbersome. The name will also be prone to irrelevance as the project grows and evolves.
- The meaning of the word really doesn’t matter, so don’t sweat about it too much. Of course it can be a nifty acronym or something related to the project, but it can also just be a word that sounds good. Like a child, the project will grow into its name, everyone will get used to it, and eventually you won’t be able to imagine any other name sounding right.
- Don’t worry about the permanence of the name. You’re just choosing something for internal use by stakeholders. If the system is launched to a wider audience you can give it a public-facing name at that time, and it will probably be better than anything you think up at this stage.
- Do get buy-in from key stakeholders. Your goal is universal adoption: people find this surprisingly easy when their boss loves the name!
Here are some good examples of actual Dovetail projects:
HARPS was a neat acronym we laboured over when the project started years ago, but nobody remembers what it means now. Hermes is a project for a sports body, so we named it after the Greek god associated with sport. Athena was a seemingly random suggestion by a client after I shared my guidelines above.
As for the last two: when we’re stuck we just pick a bird’s name. It works every time, showing how unimportant the actual word is!