Difficulty with naming has a bit of a history with programming.

There are two hard problems in computer science: caching, naming, and off by one errors.

It has been repeatedly revisited on meta and elsewhere

And yes, the guidance on these is confusing.

So, please answer:

  • Are the and questions on topic?
  • If so, what should be expected of these questions to not be closed as custom, too broad, or primarily opinion?
  • 16
    I said I'd post this, and you went ahead and posted it, only better. Can we have the same arrangement for my day job as well, please? ;)
    – yannis
    Apr 3, 2014 at 15:39
  • As long as you don't sent them to English L&U.
    – TRiG
    Feb 19, 2015 at 11:51

3 Answers 3


As has been previously pointed out, this issue has already been discussed at length, with a resulting consensus that there are two categories of "naming things" questions that might actually be on-topic:

  1. What is the name of this well-known concept?
  2. Questions about "principles of naming things."

There is, however, one remaining category of questions which I feel should always be off-topic:

What should I name this thing?

Which is not a "guessing game" question; it is primarily opinion-based. There are literally an infinite number of such questions; none of them are at all interesting to experts unless they can be answered from a principle-based perspective, in a way that could help others improve their naming skills.

  • 4
    The issue at hand is largely (1), which seems like it gets closed as off-topic more often than not, despite the upvotes on this answer...
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 22:54
  • 3
    @Izkata: (1) questions are often under-specified, making it a guessing game. See MichaelT's answer for ways of shoring those up. Apr 4, 2014 at 22:56
  • 1
    Then shouldn't they should be closed as "Too Broad", not "Off Topic" ?
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 22:57
  • 1
    "Unclear what you are asking." Apr 4, 2014 at 22:58
  • That close reason has a different meaning to most users. The specific text "There are either too many possible answers," under Too Broad is more precise, and tells users what is needed to possibly get it reopened. The "unclear" close reason is generally understood to mean the question itself is badly written (for example, grammatically and we can't understand the OP well enough to clean it up).
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 23:06
  • 2
    @Izkata: "Too many possible answers" is for Big List questions. Apr 5, 2014 at 16:43
  • Questions asking 'What is the name of this well-known concept?' have also been closed/deleted; can you clarify why some of them are off-limits?
    – Nick T
    Aug 26, 2019 at 20:44
  • @NickT: In short, we're not a dictionary or thesaurus. Software Engineering is about design problems, not word definitions. Aug 26, 2019 at 20:46
  • If being published and widely-implemented doesn't constitute "well-known", then does anything rise to meet the criteria of that point? I feel like my sin was putting a name of an implementation in the title where then the reviewer immediately seized on that being "the name" of the concept. If I didn't cite any literature, perhaps I would have been better off?
    – Nick T
    Aug 26, 2019 at 20:52
  • Some context is always better than no context. Aug 26, 2019 at 20:54
  • 1
    This is IMHO a very good answer, however, it does not really cover the frequent category "Is this a well-known concept, maybe with a name?". If the answer is no, the question is probably off-topic (too opinionated). If the answer is "yes", the question is probably on-topic (but wil be usually downvoted by the community either).
    – Doc Brown
    Aug 28, 2019 at 14:27
  • @DocBrown: The problem is that you have to either wait for answers, or evaluate questions on their technical merit, neither of which mods are really supposed to do. So you're left with two options: allow these questions and accept that 90 percent of them are going to be chaff, or categorically disallow them and make the Jeopardy askers unhappy. Aug 28, 2019 at 14:52
  • 1
    To put it another way, it's impossible for the asker to distinguish "What is the name of this well-known concept?" and "What should I name this thing?" except by asking. Mods should judge questions by their form alone, i.e., by the theoretical, not actual or known existence or non-existence of an answer. Apr 30, 2021 at 22:56
  • @DocBrown "this a well-known concept, maybe with a name?". If the answer is no, the question is probably off-topic (too opinionated). " You can see the paradox I hope, it's not clear if a question on topic until you've the asked the question and got no answer.
    – dwjohnston
    Feb 23, 2023 at 22:46
  • @dwjohnston: well, sometimes, that's the case, even when it might be frustrating for askers. But if one of our experts thinks he or she can answer your former question in a non-opinionated manner, they can always leave a comment and ask for reopening (and I will be happy to support such an effort).
    – Doc Brown
    Feb 24, 2023 at 7:02
  1. yes, absolutely, these questions are on-topic, and here's why I think so:

    • knowing the right word enables you to find a precise definition, and to search through the literature for more background information
    • knowing the right word enables effective communication. If you don't know what a "free variable" is, I think it would be nearly impossible to have a good discussion about them
    • the answers are rarely opinion-based. Most have been established in the literature and are well-defined.
    • in the few cases where there are multiple possible names, the question provides an opportunity to cover the exact differences between what the names refer to
  2. criteria for good naming questions: here's some good answers. I would add that good naming questions:

    • focus on what already exists and has already been defined
    • aren't trying to come up with new names
  3. let's keep in mind that a bad question is a bad question, and a lazy asker is a lazy asker. Ultimately, good users will (probably) generate good content, and abusize users will game, abuse, and damage the system, no matter how complicated or precise the rules are.

Lastly, I have seen this comment appearing frequently under suspected naming questions:

This question appears to be off-topic because it is a "name that thing" question. "Name that thing" are bad questions for the same reasons that "identify this obscure TV show, film or book by its characters or story" are bad questions: you can't Google them, they aren't practical in any way, they don't help anyone else, and allowing them opens the door for the asking of other types of marginal questions. See http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/02/lets-play-the-guessing-game

I would like to request that users stop posting this. Oftentimes, it is inappropriate for the OP under which it was posted, because:

  • you can google them (see #1 above)
  • they are practical (see #1 above)
  • they do help others. Of course they don't help everybody, but no question does.
  • it uses unwarranted pejorative language ("guessing game")
  • the linked blog has little to do with the OP under which the comment is pasted
    • the examples have nothing to do with precise terms such as "alpha substitution"
    • the intent of the question is totally different than a so-called "guessing game"

If you believe that a question is low quality, then (IMHO) please say why you think so, downvote it, or vote to close it. But please, do not copy-paste such comments when they don't apply. I believe it's simple harassment, incites pointless debate, turns off people from using the site and is unhelpful.

  • 3
    "knowing the right word" - how does one know it's "right word"? Per my experience with naming game questions at Programmers, this is in 99% cases a matter of opinion. As an example, one can claim that 42 is the "right word" for Everything, and even refer Wikipedia to support that
    – gnat
    Apr 3, 2014 at 17:28
  • 4
    @gnat And that's when you should downvote them, and include a comment as to why their "answer" wasn't helpful. Perhaps even flag/vote to delete the answer, depending on how bad it was.
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 1:32
  • 6
    By the way, coming from SciFi.SE, Jeff is quite wrong about them being guessing games (from most of what I've seen, most are correctly identified within one or two answers). And about them being unsearchable/not helping anyone else (I've seen new comments on old story-ident questions from someone that found it by way of Google, and I usually stay out of that tag. Not to mention closing as duplicate).
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 1:35
  • 5
    A second "By the way", I just read Jeff's blog post and all the comments. Even back then, only one user agreed with him (but cited a "list of answers" question, not "guessing-game"), while the vast majority outright disagreed. So yes, stop parroting it. It's one person's opinion and the communities across multiple SEs disagree with it.
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 4:47
  • @Izkata how do you expect voting to work? In regular questions, it rates quality content but in opinion polls, it merely indicates dis/agreement. And... what comments do you expect in naming games? "Your post is clear and nice but I disagree: -1"... or, "your explanation sucks but I have the same opinion as you: +1", like that?
    – gnat
    Apr 4, 2014 at 6:41
  • 7
    @gnat "how does one know it's the right word?" As already mentioned, there's a large body of literature to refer to (no, "large body of literature" does not mean Wikipedia). Your silly example is ... well, it's just silly.
    – user39685
    Apr 4, 2014 at 9:56
  • 1
    @Izkata: SciFi.SE might not be the best example. It's content deals entirely in fictional topics; the only site that has more amusing question titles is gaming. Apr 4, 2014 at 15:24
  • 1
    @Izkata the P.SE style naming is much closer to English.SE rather than SciFi.SE and you can see the difficulty that they have had with such questions in the past.
    – user40980
    Apr 4, 2014 at 18:25
  • @MichaelT And yet, it's still on-topic and one of their top tags.
    – Izkata
    Apr 4, 2014 at 22:50
  • 2
    @Izkata with strict constraints on what is necessary. Similar to what gaming does with game-identification. I would suggest also reading Against single word requests to get some insight into this background.
    – user40980
    Apr 4, 2014 at 23:02
  • 1
    @gnat sorry, there seems to be some confusion. I am not saying that users should do those things (instead of doing nothing). I am requesting that users do those things instead of copy/pasting standard comments (especially because the standard comments often do not apply to the OPs under which they are posted).
    – user39685
    Apr 5, 2014 at 1:42
  • @user39685 completely agree with you. Questions about finding existing names are perfectly valid and it's a real PITA to have them knocked away so easily. We expect everyone on stackexchange to do their work, so before treating a question as bad, moderators should wonder whether the question actually has an answer - do their work, in short. Jan 23, 2018 at 7:48
  • And here's my question being knocked away: softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/364427/293992 Jan 23, 2018 at 7:48
  • 1
    SE is for people to find answers to real problems. Naming is the foundation of software engineering. In fact naming is the first step of human beings towards understanding this world. Clean Code book is all about naming in the first chapter. Some names are not opinion-based. The way I've come to understand SE, is that some users have power complex, and by voting other people's questions to be closed get a sadistic satisfaction. Because by definition a thing that can be searched all over the Internet, is not subjective. It's more than one mind and more than opinion-based. Jul 13, 2018 at 6:28
  • readability is one of the most important things in programming! Jul 28, 2023 at 13:00

Much of the past guidance (from 2011, 2012 and 2014 linked above in the question) has suggested that these questions are off topic.

From Question about naming conventions "not constructive"?

Questions on StackExchange sites need to be presented in such a way that there can be an answer that is "the answer". As I read the question, every possible answer to it would be equally valid.

The question asks:

how should I represent the separate words in the filename?

I don't see how this can be answered where there aren't 15 different answers, giving 15 different opinions, all equally valid.

As for other naming convention questions being valid, thanks for bringing them up, we'll go through them and clean up those that slipped through the cracks. The fact that they exist on the site, doesn't make this one or any future questions more constructive.

As noted in Are "name that thing" questions on-topic?

I think there's a difference between questions that ask for a proper term for a concept and questions that ask for naming suggestions for a class or a method.

The former would be fine, in my opinion, but the latter do not belong on Stack Exchange for reasons of being both too localized and entirely discussion-oriented.

There are two types of name questions that are fairly consistently asked, though one can blend into the other. And we continue to get both types of questions - the "what should I name" and "what is the name of". This makes it difficult to provide the answer and easily risk getting too many poor quality answers.

Context: When this question was written, many naming questions were getting closed with a custom off topic message referencing Let's Play the Guessing Game. Prior to that questions were often being closed as "Not Constructive." This is saying that these questions are on topic, though frequently have other problems (getting closed as primary opinion or too broad when there isn't any help given to answers to say what a good answer to the question is nor inspiring answers that meet the ideals of Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. Furthermore, the questions often get down voted for lack of research. It is my hope that by following these points below that the questions can overcome these difficulties and have a chance at remaining open.

These questions are marginally on topic. However, these questions are often poor and without additional information they should be closed as too broad or primarily opinion. Much of the historical guidance points to this being the case.

In an effort to try to make these questions better fit the Q&A format rather than being a poll of answers where "I think it is an XYZ" and "Have you considered XWZ?" we need to help the questions be better asked so that they don't generate one sentence answers and stay away from the questions not to ask so that they have the "long, not short, answers". From the blog post Good Subjective, Bad Subjective:

Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers. The best subjective questions inspire your peers to share their actual experiences, not just post a mindless one-liner or cartoon in hopes of being rewarded with upvotes for being merely “first.” Sharing an experience takes at least one paragraph; ideally several paragraphs. If I’m asking about how to bake cookies, don’t give me a list of grocery items: milk. butter. vanilla. eggs. There is virtually nothing I can learn from a short, static list of grocery items that make up a recipe. Instead, tell me what happened the last time you made cookies from that recipe! Share your detailed experiences, so that we all might learn from them.

To this end, we need to provide some guidance that will help people avoid asking the questions that will be nothing more than a poll of word ideas, pattern names, and guessing at what was intended (and would get closed as either primarily opinion or too broad). Secondly, we should try to help people ask questions that won't be down voted for "this question does not show any research effort" (from the mouseover text on the down vote triangle).

We have exactly the same problem that English.SE does with their own single word requests - lots of them, low quality, uninteresting, attract poor answers from users, and they get complained about in chat, they attract less active users and repel more active users.

Drawing from English.SE tag: single-word-requests and Against single word requests there is a set of questions that are necessary to make these questions better:

  • Describe exactly the context that the name or terminology is used
  • Describe the criteria for acceptance
    • Without some criteria for acceptance of the term, there is no way to say which one is better than another and the question is simply a poll for people to toss out suggestions for a name.
  • Which names/terms have you thought of and discarded as inappropriate?
    • Just asking for a name doesn't let us know which direction you have thought and as described in Why is research important? we need to know what you have already thought of and discarded.
  • Does the question show that you searched for a suitable word before asking the question?
    • Without the information to show that you have tried, such questions reek of intellectual laziness. The use of Google is not hard. Sometimes these words are right there if you just enter the language of choice and the code construct you are working with. Stack exchange is not and should never be a "I don't know, I'll ask what its called on P.SE and see if anyone answers"

Given the above pieces of information being provided in the question, it might be acceptable to keep the question open.

I also strongly want people to look at the English.SE tags: https://english.stackexchange.com/tags and note that Single-word-requests on that site make up an average of 30/week or about 1/5th of all of their questions on a day to day basis.

Do we, P.SE, want to have a similar bit of 1/5th of our questions be questions about what to name some 'pattern' or what a particular structure is called within some code?

  • would be interesting to try a dedicated site - Naming Golf - with question and answer requirements modeled after those at Code Golf. Some folks at EL&U would probably be also interested in "off-loading" their troublesome stuff to such a site
    – gnat
    Mar 24, 2015 at 6:36
  • It would be an error to feel constrained by the above guidelines given that this is not the most up-voted answers. Likewise, it would be an error to close questions as primarily opinion based, when in fact they are not.
    – user142866
    Apr 29, 2015 at 7:28
  • Please clarify why these questions are only 'marginally' on-topic?
    – user142866
    Apr 29, 2015 at 7:28
  • 1
    @tea they are on topic, but they often have other problems of being too broad (too many possible answers), primarily opinion (no criteria for acceptance), and down voted (no research effort shown). They need additional help to try to guide answers to be better than one sentence "what about..." Without this they often find their way to being a mindless poll and, they might as well be off topic because they don't create good material for other people to search for.
    – user40980
    Apr 29, 2015 at 9:20

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