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Do You Know How to Craft the Perfect Project Name?

Craft the Perfect Project Name

Does your Project Name 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, with more getting it wrong than right.

Craft the Perfect Project Name

Craft the Perfect Project Name

Your Project Name Creates a Brand Identity

Not every project has a name, but many do.

This becomes the most visible component of your project’s ‘brand identity’. And it also creates a handy label to give your team an immediate sense of identity. So, before you even start work 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.

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.

Look for a word that has a similar meaning or associations 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.

Acronyms

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

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, Iceland, North, South, and Central America, and throughout Africa.

Modern Culture

Literature, movies, music, drama, art, and television provide a great source of names with culturally familiar associations. Be aware that if your project spans multiple cultures, this may be a problem. The recent fashion for one-word movie and book titles seems to help here.

Another approach is to use the name of someone famous. For example, use artists, composers, playwrights, architects, scientists, or engineers. Avoid politicians or the law of unintended alternative meanings will almost certainly catch you out.

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, cars, plants, geographical features, scientific disciplines, artists, authors, colours, flavours, musical terms, buildings etc

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.

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: A list of things 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.
  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 breed cynicism.
  5. 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 meanings of your candidate project name. The translate 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.

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.

Crafting Your Project Mane is just One Activity for Your 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 it into a well-defined project.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 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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