28 November, 2022

Do You Know How to Pluck out the Perfect Project Name?

Does your Project Name really matter?

After all, Juliet told Romeo that ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. But we use names all the time. And sometimes the name we hear colors our interpretation, before we find out anything else about a person, a product, or a project. Project names do sometimes matter.

But naming projects is a tricky business. It sometimes feels like more get it wrong than right.

Your Project Name Creates a Brand Identity

Do You Know How to Pluck out the Perfect Project Name?
Craft the Perfect Project Name

Not every project has a name, but many do.

A good project name is a real asset. It:

  • becomes the most visible component of your project’s ‘brand identity’.
  • creates a quick way to refer to the project.
  • confers a measure of significance upon your project.
  • …and it also becomes a handy label that gives your team an immediate sense of team identity.

So, before you even start working on thinking of a name, consider what sort of impression you want your project’s brand identity to convey.

Hiding your Project’s Purpose

Some projects are secret. So the project name needs to hide, rather than reveal, its purpose. The UK Police service keeps a large list of names and whenever a new project or operation is launched, a name is assigned. This keeps the name from giving away the nature of a potentially sensitive project or operation. Consequently, British news has been full of Operation Bumblebee, Yewtree, Ore, Return, and Caprock.

In most projects, however, it is best to have a name that clearly links to the project and its intended outcomes. Your goal is one starting point for coming up with a name. Some project leaders see the responsibility to name the project as theirs alone, whilst others like to engage their team in a discussion or even a competition. However you want to approach it, here is some advice about what to do and what not to do.

What We Will Look at

In this article, we will look at:

What Makes the Perfect Project Name?

The perfect project name – if there can ever be one – needs to capture the essence of the project. But it must do so in a pleasing and memorable way. And, at the same time, it must also avoid falling into one of the many traps of unintended consequences.

Capturing the Essence of the Project

The essence of the project lies in what it is, what it will do, or – even better – the benefits it will deliver. This kind of follows a simple rule I apply to naming my videos and articles: ‘say clearly what it delivers’.

This approach has the huge benefit that, on seeing the name, people immediately know what the project is about And that means they can readily support its aims.

Cide Word Projects

However, there are cases where you need to do exactly the opposite. These are ‘code word projects’ where you deliberately do not want people to know what the team is working on. Setting aside the secret squirrel arms of state military, policing, and espionage, how can this happen in business life and the wider arena of public service? Examples include:

Pleasing and Memorable

Better still, if you can find a name that is also pleasing, people will smile, inwardly. There a many ways we can do this with things like:

  • Rhyme
  • Alliteration (several words in the name starting with the same letter or sound)
  • Humor
  • Cleverness

Unintended Consequences


Beware of unintended consequences. This is where your seemingly perfect project name suddenly seems foolish or offensive for reasons you had not considered. We’ll see examples of:

  • unintended acronyms of the words in the name
  • unfortunate translations into other languages
  • alternative interpretations of a clever idea

Where to Find a Good Project Name

The dictionary is full of words, and some of them may well suit you. If you want to be more focused, you can always take an everyday word that seems to suit your project, and then use a thesaurus to find one that is less mundane, quotidian, banal, or commonplace. You get the idea…

Look for a word that has a similar meaning to or association with the goal of your project. This simple approach ensures that, when people hear your project’s name, it conjures up the right purpose in their minds.

You can do this at the surface level, naming your project after the primary benefits it should produce, or at a deeper level to reflect the values or cultural changes it will support.

Beyond this, here are the six places we will look:

  1. Acronyms
  2. Mythology and Classical Culture
  3. Modern culture
  4. Other large classes
  5. Humor
  6. If all else fails…


Space agencies seem to be particularly good at acronyms:

  • Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO)
  • Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (ATHENA)
  • Characterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS)
  • Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer (SMILE)
  • Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer (FAST)
  • Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX)
  • Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX)
  • Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)

But acronyms can get you into trouble if people don’t know what they stand for. They can easily make some wrong assumptions. If you are going to use acronyms, then try to make them spell out something appropriate.

And beware of names that create unintended acronyms, like the short-lived ‘Social Housing Investment Trust’.

Mythology and Classical Culture

You can pick a name from mythology. This gives you a host of archetypes and associations.

But don’t be boring and stick solely to more familiar cultures like Ancient Greek or Roman. Take a look at http://www.godchecker.com. You can find vibrant pantheons of gods and heroes in the cultures of India, China and throughout east Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia, Oceania, North, South, and Central America, and throughout Africa. In fact, every culture will have its own myths and legends, gods and heroes. Just be careful to review the associations carefully, for risks of unintended offense.

Modern and Classical Culture

You can look to:

  • Literature (book names, characters, vessels, places)
    If you use classics you are least likely to hit any copyright risks. Prolific authors offer a whole list of names, for example, Charles Dickens
  • Movies (titles, characters, places, organizations)
    Series, like the James Bond or Marvel movies, are excellent sources
  • Music (composers, titles, instruments, performers, musical terms)
  • Drama (playwrights, characters, titles)
  • Art (artists, galleries, works)
  • Television (series, characters)
  • Technology (engineers, inventors, scientists, components)
  • Brands (use with care)

All of these offer great sources of names with culturally familiar associations.

Be aware that if your project spans multiple cultures, this may cause a problem. The recent fashion for one-word movie and book titles seems to help here.

What else comes in large classes of different things?

Any large class of things will have names within the group that elicit different associations. Examples include: 

  • Animals
    Wild animals, domesticated breeds, extinct animals
  • Cars
    Brands, models, fictional
  • Cities, Counties, States
  • Colors
  • Materials
    Woods, stones, fabrics, metals…
  • People
    Authors, leaders, actors, artists, composers…
  • Elements
    Beware of toxic and radioactive elements (but plenty left!)
  • Plants and Trees
  • Geographical features
    Things like ravine, bluff, mesa, glacier…
  • Gemstones and minerals
  • Places
    Mountains, lakes, rivers, seas, forests, national parks, resorts…
  • Buildings, Monuments, and Bridges
    The metaphor value of a building or a bridge is excellent
  • Scientific disciplines
  • Foods and Flavors
    Coffees, teas, candies, fruits, vegetables, cheeses…
    Beware meats and alcoholic drinks that can cause offense to some people

So, geographical or geological features can make good names. You could use rivers, mountains, minerals, volcanoes, or seas. So can plant, animal, or bird names, although many have been taken already as product names.


Take care… Take great care. What’s funny to you may be unfunny or even offensive to someone else. Look what happened when the British Antarctic Survey asked the public to nominate and then vote on a name for its new boat…

Yup. The winning name was Boaty McBoatface.

Come to think of it, maybe this is a better example of the principle that you need to be very cautious in asking ‘the public’ to come up with a name and then vote on their favorite!

A good example (to me) is the dry humor with which the late Iain M Banks names large vessels in his science fiction series of Culture novels. Names like:

  • Just Read The Instructions
    (one of four Culture ship names that Elon Musk has re-used for vessels in his own space program)
  • Congenital Optimist
  • Fate Amenable To Change
  • Lightly Seared On The Reality Grill
  • So Much for Subtlety

If you can come up with a name that encapsulates dry humor, then this is a good option. But beware. There will be plenty of people – especially those who do not share your language – who will find these sorts of names perplexing.

If all else fails…

Re-use a name for your project, based on an existing list of project names. What about those used by teams in the various versions of the TV series, The Apprentice? This program, by the way, frequently shows the struggle people have in coming up with names, and the mistakes they sometimes make, in choosing a name that is overly grandiose or pompous.

Take Care: What to Do and Avoid when Crafting your Project Name

Five things to Do When You Name your Project

  1. Check very carefully for unintended alternative meanings.
    The word Titanic may mean ‘big’, but the name ‘Project Titanic’ conjures other associations.
  2. Choose a name that is a little out of the ordinary. Therefore it is likely to have fewer alternative associations.
  3. Pick something intriguing if you want people to ask about it.
  4. Consider an emotive name that conjures up assumptions, feelings, or emotions that are relevant.
  5. Use a randomly chosen name if your project is secret or confidential.

Five Things to Avoid When You Name your Project

  1. Avoid meaningless, unpronounceable acronyms. People will forget what the name is. So, when asked what the acronym stands for, they will say, lamely, ‘I don’t know’. Particularly avoid acronyms that accidentally spell out or suggest unwanted words.
  2. Don’t choose a name that is hard to pronounce in any language where the project might operate. If it is hard to pronounce, then people will avoid talking about it. Likewise, avoid hard-to-spell names.
  3. Especially avoid picking a name that has unwanted alternative meanings. This can be through double meanings or in a second language.
  4. Reject names that suggest unreasonable or unattainable levels of achievement. Hyperbole often breeds cynicism.
  5. Never let your choice of name become divisive among your team, or alienate one or other of your stakeholder groups.

A Final Word of Caution

Google is your friend. It can help you unearth other meanings of your candidate project name. The translation feature can help you find out if your possible project name has an unfortunate meaning in another language your team or stakeholders use. And sites like Wikipedia can help you find the full stories behind mythical names. You may even turn up other instances of projects with the same name.

One example I came across was a highly ambitious project. It had been named after another highly ambitious project: Babel. The project manager was genuinely surprised when I pointed out the original Tower of Babel story. It was an example of hubris and the consequent failure to achieve what the builders intended. Needless to say, the project name was rapidly changed.

Crafting Your Project Name

Often Projects get their name during the Project Definition stage.

Part of Project Definition

You may be interested in our Project Manager’s Project Definition Kit – an innovative course and resource kit, so you can take a jumble of ideas, needs, and requests and turn them into a well-defined project.

During Your Project Kick-off

A great time to get your team engaged in coming up with a name for your project is during your project kick-off meeting. You may like our article: How to Make Your Next Kick-off Meeting a Huge Success.

Do you have any good tips or Amusing Stories?

We’d love to hear your experience or advice. So please do contribute to the comments section below.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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