Richard Groß

IT Archaeologist


Naming Guidelines

Programming is a team sport where we use code to send messages of intent to our future selves. The messages are the names we have assigned to various function, class and other code elements. The assigned name can then help our future selves figure out the intent of an element and if a new piece of functionality goes here or over there. Thus naming is inseparable from design. A well-chosen name is the difference between one hour of "I know exactly what to do" and days and weeks of rework because "I thought I needed to do this but actually…​".

There are 2 hard problems in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-1 errors.

— Leon Bambrick

True to the above quote I still find namings things very hard. Fortunately Bob Nystrom has written two great blog posts on the subject: Long Names are Long and Naming Things in Code. These two describe guidelines for naming which I want to reiterate, extend and sometimes even change. Most of the stuff I’ve added are ideas from the community (f.ex. Johannes Seitz). I’m not making any originality vows here :)

In a future post I’d also like to take a look at Arlo Belshee’s "Naming is a Process" which describes the process of coming up with a good name.


If you know about even more great articles, books, etc. please consider contacting me using Twitter and the like.

Good Names

A name has one goal:

Once a name has accomplished its goal, any additional characters are redundant.

The following guidelines will help us write terse code that communicates intention.

Use one word per concept

  • ✓ Use one word per concept.

    // Bad (three variations for the same concept: fetching accounts):
    fun fetchActiveAccount(): List<Account>
    fun allActiveAccounts(): List<Account>
    fun retrieveActiveAccountInfo(): List<Account>
    // Better
    fun allActiveAccounts(): List<Account>

Omit words that are obvious given a variable’s or parameter’s type

  • ✓ Don’t put the type in the variable’s name

    // Bad:
    val integerId: Int
    val nameString: String
    // Better
    val id: Int
    val name: String
  • ✓ Pair Numbers and their unit (5 meter, 20 seconds, 5 €) so you can never pass seconds to a method that expects milliseconds (length class in the appendix)

    // Bad:
    val lengthInMillis: Int
    // Better
    val length: Length
  • ✓ Express concepts with types and avoid stringly typed code.

    // Bad:
    class Person constructor(val name: String, val street: String, val zipCode: String, val city: String){ /* */ }
    // Better:
    class Person constructor(val name: Name, val address: Address){ /* */ }
    class Address constructor(val street: Street, val zipCode: ZipCode, val city: City){ /* */ }
  • ✓ Name collections not by their type but what’s in them using the (forced) plural form.

    // Bad:
    val personList: List<Person>
    val furnitureList: List<Furniture>
    val dogPersonHashMap: Map<Dog, Person>
    // Better
    val people: List<Person>
    val furnitures: List<Furniture>
    val dogOwners: Map<Dog, Person>
  • ✓ Don’t add the argument name to function name. It’s redundant since our type system and IDE tell us everything we need to know.

    // Bad:
    fun mergeTableCells(cells: List<TableCell>)
    // Better
    fun merge(cells: List<TableCell>)
    • This also makes the call easier to read: merge(cells) vs mergeTableCells(tableCells)

  • ✓ Only describe the return in the name if there are identical functions that return different types.

    // Bad:
    // Better:

Omit words that don’t disambiguate the name

  • Take a look at recentlyUpdatedAnnualSalesBid

    • Are there updated annual sales bids that aren’t recent?

    • Are there recent annual sales bids that were not updated?

    • Are there recently updated sales bids that aren’t annual?

  • And so on. We can apply such questioning to all of our names to figure out which words are just fluff, don’t disambiguate the name and should be removed.

Omit words that are known from the surrounding context

  • Class variables are in the context of their class. Class names are in the context of their component and so on.

    // Bad:
    class AnnualHolidaySale constructor(val annualSaleRebate: Rebate){
        fun promoteHolidaySale() { /* */ }
    // Better:
    class AnnualHolidaySale constructor(val rebate: Rebate){
        fun promote() { /* */ }

Omit words that don’t mean much of anything

  • We’re looking at you manager, instance, amount, state etc.

  • Connection provides exactly the same information as ConnectionManager.

  • If in doubt ask yourself “Would this name mean the same thing if I removed the word?”.

  • Never use set-Methods. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has more than 25 definitions of the verb set. It is one of the least-precise words you can use. Consider using names that express intent and give you the ability to protect invariants.

    // Bad
    // Better
  • Never use get-Methods. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has more than 15 definitions of the verb get. Name functions that just return a property and don’t change state using nouns. Using a get as prefix does not provide any meaningful additional information and is just fluff.

    // Bad
    // Better


  • Use one word per concept

  • Omit words that are obvious given a variable’s or parameter’s type

  • Omit words that don’t disambiguate the name

  • Omit words that are known from the surrounding context

  • Omit words that don’t mean much of anything

I hope these guidelines provide value to you. Most of them are from Long Names are Long and I’ve only added little bits here and there.

Appendix: Length class

It’s not hard to write a class that pairs a number and a unit. I’ve included an example below with lots of useful methods. Depending on your domain a money object can be more challenging because you do have to remember your unit and can’t convert everything to a default unit. Please also not that I used integer precision for my length. Depending on your domain you might want to use long or BigDecimal instead.

// (you can write this much shorter if you use Kotlin data classes or Java records)
class Length private constructor(private val rawValueInMeter: Int): Comparable<Length>{
    // so that Length(4) == Length(4)
    override fun equals(other: Any?): Boolean {
        if(other === this) return true
        else if(other !is Length) return false
        else return Objects.equals(rawValueInMeter, other.rawValueInMeter)
    // so that you can use Length in a Set or Map
    override fun hashCode(): Int { return Objects.hash(rawValueInMeter) }
    // for nicer debugging
    override fun toString(): String { return "$rawValueInMeter m" }

    // so that Length(4) < Length(5)
    override operator fun compareTo(other: Length): Int = this.rawValueInMeter.compareTo(other.rawValueInMeter)
    // so that Length(4) + Length(5) = Length(9)
    operator fun plus(other: Length) = Length(rawValueInMeter + other.rawValueInMeter)
    // so that Length(8) - Length(5) = Length(3)
    operator fun minus(other: Length) = Length(rawValueInMeter - other.rawValueInMeter)

    companion object {
        // so that you can write Length.fromMeter(4) and know the unit
        fun fromMeter(meter: Int) = Length(meter)