How hard is it to change GitHub username to a short word?

Last week I decided to change mine from a 14 letter word to some 4-6 letter word. Don’t ask me why. I was fed up typing long words!

The new username should ideally be —

  • Comfortable in speaking
  • Easily pronounceable
  • Faster to type
  • Visually good looking

The hunt

My quest began manually with initial candidates as ashr, friday, ranj, aran, etc. All of them turned out to be taken. It soon became clear to me that this method isn’t going to work.

Why do it manually, when a machine can do it for you!

It was time to fire up python. I wrote a script to —

  1. Generate random 4 letter pronounceable words with less than 3 syllables
  2. Check if this word has already been pinged
  3. If not, ping this username’s GitHub profile page and log this ping for step 2
  4. If the response code is 404, it means this username’s profile page doesn’t exist. So, it’s available. Store this username in a file

I let the script run overnight with a 0.2 second delay between each request (to avoid being blacklisted by GitHub for spamming their servers). Out came 516 usernames, of which I shortlisted 16 fitting the aforementioned four criteria.

byof, taby, cifo, ryhy, tdry, psod, jesi, udti, ipby, etc.

These were potentially good candidates for random words, but there was something I hadn’t explored yet.

Could it be that I was missing out on some good dictionary words? I must be, right?

To weed out this possibility, I rewrote step 1 to iterate over 3, 4, 5, and 6 letter dictionary words. The script ran for 6 hours with ~30000 words. The result set was enormous comprising ~5000 words. (Notice ~25000 words were already taken as usernames). It took me over half hour to shortlist 53 out of them.

train, spor, render, butyne, upcut, riser, talc, brand, frenzy, july, swab, etc.

Wow! There are so many good options. I don’t know what’s best.

I gave 5 people this list and asked them to anonymously pick a maximum of 10 names that they considered the best. From the responses I figured out the most desirable one. riser it is! Let’s apply it.

Username is already taken

Wait a second. Let’s try train.

Username is unavailable

Ummm, what?

Realization of truth

It turns out that there are 2 more categories of usernames which I didn’t know about.

  • Reserved words - Certain words like train, cache, tour, sudo, team, etc are not available as usernames to the public. They are reserved for use by GitHub.
  • Squatted names - When you change your username from A to B, GitHub redirects all the requests from A to B. To maintain this link, the username A is not made public immediately. However, according to their Name Squatting Policy you can contact GitHub asking them to open username A to public and they’ll happily do it, if possible.

All right then. I’m going to email them asking to free up spor!

Email requesting a

4 hours later

Email response declining my

Hmmm. Disappointed. At least the support team is incredibly nice. No worries, we’ll get back to manual hunting.

muly - Unavailable

musy - Unavailable

musq - Bingo!

Well, that was quick. I guess humans win this round. Interestingly, it was a good ride of two days. Got to learn new stuff.


So, how hard is it to change GitHub username to a short word?

Turns out, it’s not so trivial.

Source Code