# 2.2: Variable names

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Programmers generally choose names for their variables that are meaningful—they document what the variable is used for.

Variable names can be as long as you like. They can contain both letters and numbers, but they can’t begin with a number. It is legal to use uppercase letters, but it is conventional to use only lower case for variables names.

The underscore character, _, can appear in a name. It is often used in names with multiple words, such as your_name or airspeed_of_unladen_swallow.

If you give a variable an illegal name, you get a syntax error:

>>> 76trombones = 'big parade'
SyntaxError: invalid syntax
>>> more@ = 1000000
SyntaxError: invalid syntax
>>> class = 'Advanced Theoretical Zymurgy'
SyntaxError: invalid syntax


76trombones is illegal because it begins with a number. more@ is illegal because it contains an illegal character, @. But what’s wrong with class?

It turns out that class is one of Python’s keywords. The interpreter uses keywords to recognize the structure of the program, and they cannot be used as variable names.

Python 3 has these keywords:

False      class      finally    is         return
None       continue   for        lambda     try
True       def        from       nonlocal   while
and        del        global     not        with
as         elif       if         or         yield
assert     else       import     pass
break      except     in         raise


You don’t have to memorize this list. In most development environments, keywords are displayed in a different color; if you try to use one as a variable name, you’ll know.

This page titled 2.2: Variable names is shared under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Allen B. Downey (Green Tea Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.