In our collective experience as editors of Nature Methods, we’ve seen a plethora of names for methods and software tools — some great, some terrible and some downright hilarious. Over the years we’ve seen some intriguing trends. Many names, such as the acronyms SIMBA1 and TARDIS2 found in this issue, are inspired by pop culture references. We’ve also seen a slew of methods that start with a lowercase “i”, which we can only surmise is inspired by the commercial popularity of the iPhone. And no one will be surprised that we’ve seen a proliferation of technique names ending in “-omics” and “-seq.”

A good method name will be catchy, will be unique, and ideally will reference the technique being used — illustrated by a few particularly nice examples in this issue. Metabuli3 is the name of a metagenomic taxonomic classifier tool — it is both unique as a word and references the technique of metagenomics. Molecular pixelation4 is the name of a sequencing-based approach to map the spatial organization of cell surface proteins. While it doesn’t specifically conjure up a particular technique, the name highlights both the spatial and molecular aspects of the method and is a catchy phrase that should be easy to remember.

A common myth is that editors won’t think a method or tool is novel unless it’s given a name. This is false — just as one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we don’t judge a paper on the name (or lack therefore) of the method. Still, there are some cases where giving a new method or tool a name is beneficial. But method namers should also avoid some common pitfalls. Here we provide some advice about when and how to give your method a great name.

First, when is appropriate to give a method a name or acronym5? Introducing a new name for a technique or workflow can be a powerful signifier of novelty, so naming should be done responsibly. In our view, a method needs to be sufficiently novel in both conceptual and technical aspects to justify a new name or acronym. A small tweak of an established method or a combination of standard, existing methods into a workflow typically should not be given a new name. To distinguish a second-generation method, consider building on the same name as the original method or adding a version number.

Some methods have become popular only after a different group from the original method developers gave the general technique a clever name — and the original report may unfortunately be overlooked. If your method is new, it may be worth giving it a name or acronym that people will remember and credit appropriately.

Software tools represent a special case and should always be given names6. This allows users to easily search for the software they need and helps distinguish a particular package from other, related tools. Newer releases ideally should be numbered as versions.

Second, pick a unique name that will be easy for potential users to remember. It will be difficult to search for papers that utilize the method if the method name is a word or phrase already in common use — and clever capitalization will not help. Conversely, if your method name is too obscure or unpronounceable, it may be hard for people to remember. Many fields (such as light sheet fluorescence microscopy and NMR spectroscopy) are particularly overloaded with acronyms, which quickly become confusing for users, especially when workflows are similar.

Third, you should search the scientific literature — including preprint servers, software repositories and potentially even patent databases — for other methods or tools that have the same name. If you plan to give your neuroscience tool the same name as an astronomy method, it’s unlikely that this will cause confusion. However, if there is another method or tool in a similar field to yours with the same or a very similar name, especially if that method is already popular, we recommend picking a different name.

You should also go beyond the scientific literature and do a broad internet search. Is your method name a riff on a copyrighted word? No one wants an attorney from a powerful entity sending a ‘cease and desist’ letter. Does it mean something offensive in another language? Astute method namers will take care to avoid these pitfalls.

Fourth, when naming your method, you may want to ask yourself some tough questions, such as, “Will I still be proud of this method name in ten years, or will I cringe at my younger self?” or “Will some users of the method be embarrassed to say the method name aloud in a presentation?” Though plays on words and provocative phrases can be catchy and certainly memorable, they can sometimes come off as juvenile, risqué or even downright offensive, and may not age well. We recommend you run your proposed method name by your most thoughtful colleagues in case of any doubts.

As editors, one of our key roles is to think carefully about how a paper will be received by the scientific community and advise authors on how best to present their work appropriately. This can include requesting that authors change the name of their technique or tool in cases where the method name is not unique or is potentially offensive. Sometimes authors are reluctant, especially if they have already posted a preprint or software tool using the name, but please be assured that we have your best interests at heart. We hope that we’ve provided some food for thought about how to come up with a method name that helps your technique or tool shine.