How Developers Choose Names

Dror G. Feitelson*, Ayelet Mizrahi, Nofar Noy, Aviad Ben Shabat, Or Eliyahu, Roy Sheffer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The names of variables and functions serve as implicit documentation and are instrumental for program comprehension. But choosing good meaningful names is hard. We perform a sequence of experiments in which a total of 334 subjects are required to choose names in given programming scenarios. The first experiment shows that the probability that two developers would select the same name is low: in the 47 instances in our experiments the median probability was only 6.9 percent. At the same time, given that a specific name is chosen, it is usually understood by the majority of developers. Analysis of the names given in the experiment suggests a model where naming is a (not necessarily cognizant or serial) three-step process: (1) selecting the concepts to include in the name, (2) choosing the words to represent each concept, and (3) constructing a name using these words. A followup experiment, using the same experimental setup, then checked whether using this model explicitly can improve the quality of names. The results were that names selected by subjects using the model were judged by two independent judges to be superior to names chosen in the original experiment by a ratio of two-to-one. Using the model appears to encourage the use of more concepts and longer names.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)37-52
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • code comprehension
  • variable naming


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