From CASP to Poreathon: what makes for a good bioinformatics 'brand' name?

One of my more significant contributions to the world of bioinformatics is that I came up with the name for The Assemblathon.

Towards the end of 2010, our group at the UC Davis Genome Center was tasked with helping organize a new competition to assess software in the field of genome assembly. I remember a midweek meeting with my boss (Ian Korf) where he informed me that by the end of the week we had to come up with a name for the project, set up a website, and have a mailing list up and running…and by 'we' he meant 'me'.

I was aware that there had been several other comparative software assessments in the field of bioinformatics, and that a certain theme had arisen in the naming of such exercises:

It seems amazing to me that after GASP decided to make a bogus acronym by including the 'S' from 'aSsessment', all subsequent evaluation exercises followed suit (although you could also argue that CASP could have worked equally well as 'CAPS').

I felt quite strongly that the world did not need another '…ASP' style of name and so I came up with 'The Assemblathon'. Although many might shudder at this, I was really thinking of it as a 'brand' name, rather than just another forgettable scientific project name. The Assemblathon name ticked several boxes:

  1. Memorable
  2. Different
  3. Pronounceable
  4. Website name was available
  5. Twitter account name was available

The last two items are kind of obvious when you realize that this is a completely new word. You may disagree, but I think that these are important — but not essential — aspects of naming a scientific project.

So what has happened since I bequeathed the Assemblathon brand to the world? Well, we've now had:

  1. Alignathon - A collaborative competition to assess the state of the art in whole genome sequence alignment (published in 2014)
  2. Variathon - A challenge to analyze existing or new pipelines for variant calling in terms of accuracy and efficiency (completed in 2013, but not published yet as far as I can tell)
  3. Poreathon - Assessment of bioinformatics pipelines relating to Oxford Nanopore sequencing data (announced by Nick Loman this week)

I don't have any issues with 'Alignathon', as the name is based on a verb and the goal of the project is probably guessble by any bioinformatician. Like Assemblathon, it is a portmanteau that just seems to work.

In contrast, I find 'Variathon' a horrible name. The name doesn't scan well and may not make as much sense to others. If you search Google for this name you will see the following:

Not a good sign if your project name is regarded as a spelling mistake!

So what about 'Poreathon'? While I find this less offensive than Variathon, I still don't think it is a particularly snappy name…a bit of a snoreathon perhaps? ;-) Pore is both a noun and a verb, so the dual meaning of the word somewhat dilutes its impact as a project name.

5 suggestions for naming scientific projects

  1. You should not feel committed to naming something in order to continue a previous naming trend
  2. Acronyms are not the only option for the name of a scientific project!
  3. If there is any confusion as to how your project name is spelt or pronounced, this will not help you promote the name among your peers.
  4. Consider treating the intended name as a brand, and explore the issues that arise (how discoverable is the name, how similar to other 'brands', can you trademark it, is your name offensive in other languages, can you buy a suitable domain name? etc.)
  5. At the very least, perform a Google search for your intended name to see if others in your field have already used it (see my post on Identical Classifications In Science)