On Naming In Open Source

Here are some stories on how you can go wrong with naming, especially in open source software.


Don't use the name "easy" or "simple" in your software as it won't be and people will make fun of it.


People tend to want to use the word 'easy' or 'simple' when things really are not, to describe a facade. They want to paper over immense complexity. Inevitably the facade will be a leaky abstraction, and developers using the software are exposed to it. And now you named it 'easy', when it's anything but not. Just don't give in to the temptation in the first place, and people won't make fun of it.


easy_install is a Python tool to easily and automatically install Python packages, similar to JavaScript npm or Ruby gems. pip is a more popular tool these days that does the same. easy_install hides, among many other complicated things, a full-fledged web scraper that follows links onto arbitrary websites to find packages. It's "easy" until it fails, and it will fail at one point or another.

SimpleItem is an infamous base class in Zope 2 that pulls in just about every aspect of Zope 2 as mixin classes. It's supposed to make it easy to create a new content type for Zope. The amount of methods made available is truly intimidating and anything but simple.


Don't use the word "demo" or "sample" in your main codebase or people will depend on it and you will be stuck with it forever.


It's tempting in some library or framework consisting of many parts to want to expose an integrated set of pieces, just as an example, within that codebase itself. Real use of it will of course have the developers integrating those pieces themselves. Except they won't, and now you have people using Sample stuff in real world code.

The word Sample or Demo is fine if the entire codebase is a demo, but it's not fine as part of a larger codebase.


SampleContainer was a part of Zope 3 that serves as the base class of most actual container subclasses in real world code. It was just supposed to demonstrate how to do the integration.


Don't reuse the name of software for an incompatible rewrite, unless you want people to be confused about it.


Your software has a big installed base. But it's not perfect. You decide to create a new, incompatible version, without a clear upgrade path. Perhaps you handwave the upgrade path "until later", but that then never happens.

Just name the new version something else. Because the clear upgrade path may never materialize, and people will be confused anyway. They will find documentation and examples for the old system if they search for the new one, and vice versa. Spare your user base that confusion.

The temptation to do this is great; you want to benefit from popularity of the name of the old system and this way attract users to the shiny new system. But that's exactly the situation where doing this is most confusing.


Zope 3: there was already a very popular Zope 2 around, and then we decide to completely rewrite it and named it "Zope 3". Some kind of upgrade path was promised but conveniently handwaved. Immense confusion arose. We then landed pieces of Zope 3 in the old Zope 2 codebase, and it took years to resolve all the confusion.

Company name

If you want a open source community, don't name the software after your company, or your company after the software.


If you have a piece of open source software and you want an open source community of developers for it, then don't name it after your company. You may love your company, but outside developers get a clear indication that "the Acme Platform" is something that is developed by Acme. They know that as outside developers, they will never gain as much influence on the development of that software as developers working at Acme. So they just don't contribute. They go to other open source software that isn't so clearly allied to a single business and contribute there. And you are left to wonder why developers are not attracted to work on your software.

Similarly, you may have great success with an open source project and now want to name your own company after it. That sends a powerful signal of ownership to other stakeholders, and may deter them from contributing.

Of course naming is only a part of what makes an open source project look like something a developer can safely contribute to. But if you get the naming bit wrong, it's hard to get the rest right.

Add the potential entanglement into trademark politics on top of it, and just decide not to do it.


Examples omitted so I won't get into trouble with anyone.

Preserved Comments

Javier Gonel

While opensource might be what we do in our free time, in our kitchen, it is also a professional space. So keep things professional:

  • No swearing/profanity.
  • No sexual innuendos.
  • No derogatory language.


also, don't use the name of the programming language in the name of the project, especially if it's for end users (lower level libaries can get away with it, but frankly it's pretty clunky). Far far too many projects are called py-something or something-py . Especially bad for apps - no one should really care what your program is written in if they aren't developing against its api.

Sally Fuentas

I don't name it with a word that is rude or obscene in a non English language.


Similarly to be avoided:

  • New
  • Fast
  • Util
  • Helper
  • Data
  • System


not sure if I agree with the "Company point". For example "collective" indicates to many that it is "properly tested etc". I use company name in my products as a "warning", I steer away from some companies add-ons and test everything from others....

Sean Upton

How about slightly obfuscated examples? "In other news, Analog Creations has renamed their business to SoapCorp to demonstrate the power of their open-source bath product, Soap-on-a-rope." ;-)