Nine months ago I got the news and I knew everything was going to change.  And now here we are, exhausted and bleary-eyed, holding the wonder we have created.  As I look down on our little miracle I hold softly cradled in my arms I think ahead. Yes, I made a part. I want the best for my little part, I want to give it the brightest future and the best opportunities.  The first step to giving my part a leg up is to give it a great name.

First Name – The Table Rule

The first name of the part should describe it in the most direct way.  For example, the clearest and simplest way to address a person is by their first name. If someone called out “Dan”, even a person I didn’t know, I would turn to see who called my name.

One could accurately call me by a nickname, attribute or title. Hey guy, dude, blogger, triathlete, bro, d-train, husband, engineer and so on.  None of these titles though are accurate enough to grab my attention.

How would the part you are naming introduce itself at a party full of parts? It wouldn’t say I’m “sheet metal” or I’m “angular bends“ or I’m “boxy thing” or I’m “Holey Plate” or I’m “326 grams”. While technically accurate, those names don’t get to the heart of what the part’s purpose is. It would say, “I’m Mounting Bracket, you can call me Brack”. Sup, Brack I’m Axle and this is Gus(set). 

If the item you are naming was on a table of assorted different items, this would be what you’d call it when requesting someone to hand it to you. Additional specificity isn’t needed (yet) because seeing the item provides context. “Please hand me that wrench,” is descriptive enough without calling out the style or size when there is only one wrench available.

Aside – One- or Two-word Name?

A common misconception is that every part’s name should be only one word.  There are many instances when a two-word grouping should be used instead of a single word.  The first instance is when the commonly accepted name is what is called an open compound word. Referring back to the table rule, would someone else understand what you mean by the single word name?  For example, “Please grab me the iron,” would cause confusion if you wanted a “soldering iron.”  Or it would be unclear to ask “Can I please see that hammer,” if your intent is to see baggy panted 1980s dance and rap icon MC Hammer.  Hot dog or vice president

If you use a one-word name conversationally, would it be clear what you meant?  Some words are so broad that they cross categories. A nut can be a kind of fastener or a healthy snack.

A compound noun or noun phrase
Iron -> soldering iron
Nuts -> Macadamia nuts
Bag -> Teabag
Printer -> 3D printer

Often, the reason two words are used is because a qualifying word is needed.  For example, deadly robot. The word “deadly” qualifies the word “robot” and thus forms a qualifying phrase. Qualifying phrases are important to avoid confusion such as in the instance of “Robot, deadly, not” versus “robot, not deadly”.  Is the robot not deadly or not a robot? Only one way to find out, start hurling insults at the robot and slander the character of its family.

Follow up Names – The Store Rule

A second name is needed when, instead of items of different types, there are items of the same class/category that require further differentiation.  This will always be the case unless you work for a business that sells exactly and only one item or has developed a product with Bieber or Gaga level iconic one name recognition status.

A store will have multiple versions of a given item, a restaurant will have variations of a dish, and George Foreman’s house will have five children named George Edward Forman. The second name begins to distinguish the item from other items of the same type when there isn’t visual or other context to aid.

Ultimately, the goal is a name chain that stands alone without any context.  If someone goes on a coffee run and you don’t specify your order, you are liable to get a small pumpkin spice latte “coffee” when you wanted a large nitro cold brew “coffee”. From coffee to tacos to manufactured parts, when what we require is something specific then the way we describe it must also be specific.

Part naming is the opposite of how we speak in English. We speak in ascending order of importance (large, nitro, cold-brew coffee) and we name in descending (coffee, cold brew, nitro, large). With the exception, of course, being master Yoda. “Coffee. Cold-brew. Nitro. Large. Yes, Hrmmm.Tip: Don’t let Yoda get a large — that dude is way too caffeinated already.  Also, counterintuitively he prefers a “dark” roast.

Aside – How Long Should a Name Chain Be?

In general, the briefer and simpler the name chain is the better. Shorter is easier to communicate, remember and less prone to human error.  Every name chain needs to be unique within an organization. The length needed, therefore, depends on the organization.

So, as simple as possible and yet also unique. Duplicate names in the system can cause manufacturing disruptions due to incorrect ordering, fabrication, stocking, dissemination, and assembly. The specificity must be unique within the company; not just as the company exists now but also as the company exists 100 years from now and beyond. You must… predict the future!

We hope our organizations will endure and grow over time making many part versions and variations. One approach to ensure uniqueness is to add additional name descriptors ad infinitum. A better approach is to punctuate the name chain with a name that is a highly individualistic attribute. The more individualistic, the less likely for future duplication. I like to use a measurable metric like an external bounding dimension.

Increasing the number of digits in a combination exponentially increases the permutations and security and so does a second individualistic attribute name.

Frog (Likely)
Frog, Talking (Very unlikely)
Frog, Talking, Klingon (Very, very unlikely)

Another option is to use a Machine, Time Travel to go into the distant future.  Then you can check out the PLM system, see if there are any potential duplicates and go back in time to give your part the simplest name possible. But wait, if you do that, then you will have created a new alternate reality.

Aside – Why Have Part Names?

When creating a name it is useful to think of why part names exist. Part numbers work as unique identifiers to distinguish one part from the next. This is needed for cataloging and organizing parts and the associated part purchasing information.  Part drawings provide all the details of the part.

What purpose then is there for a part name? The part drawing title block has a place for a part name. If there is a place for a thing there must be a thing in that place.  To do otherwise would cause a downward spiral from civilization and order to anarchy and chaos.

The actual reason for parts’ names is that part numbers aren’t normally humanly recallable. Much of the communication around parts is still done informally and by those that don’t have access to the part number database. From shop floor to shop floor communication or shop floor to engineer or purchasing to shipping and so on, when someone says “What’s the situation with that mounting bracket?” it may spark enough information for one party to provide the other party the information needed. 

Speaking of parties, that Brack is one crazy guy.


Dan Slaski is the Lead Renegade for Renegade Prototyping and your new secret weapon/best friend for design domination. A Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineer with a long list of credentials to accompany his years of industry experience in fields including the medical, robotics, and military sectors. He has designed assemblies with hundreds of unique parts and moving components that have gone high into the earth's atmosphere, deep below the oceans and everything in between. All of this has contributed to his vast portfolio of knowledge dealing with difficult engineering problems, and a wide repertoire of skills in prototyping, manufacturing, and sourcing. Yet he still finds a way to remain humble. If you have a project that demands success you need to get on his client list ASAP.