Proposal to Rename the ‘Master’ Branch of WordPress-Owned Git Repositories

Yesterday, core contributor Aaron Jorbin proposed renaming the default “master” branch for all WordPress-owned Git repositories to “main.” The proposal comes among a flurry of related terminology changes that the larger tech community is considering around oppressive language.

Based on the ongoing discussion in the comments of the proposal, the term “trunk” has gained popularity, and the original post has been updated in favor of that term. If it moves forward, trunk would be more in line with core WordPress, which uses Subversion (SVN). It would also make sense along with the “branch” terminology already in use with both SVN and Git — tree, trunk, and branches.

“As a part of tearing down the systems of oppression that exist in the world, WordPress should remove references to master and replace them with trunk in all git repositories,” wrote Jorbin.

Amidst the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and following the death of George Floyd, the tech community has been taking a deeper look into its systems and determining what changes it can make. While there are larger systemic issues at play, many are determined to remove any potentially oppressive or discriminatory terminology. The idea is not that these minor changes will create an evolution overnight but that they are small pieces of the much bigger picture — cogs in the machine that must move for the wheel to turn.

“This is a small move, but if it makes one more person comfortable contributing to a WordPress project, it will be worth it,” wrote Jorbin.

GitHub should soon be making a similar change across its platform. In response to a tweet calling for GitHub to lead the charge and rename the default “master” branch to “main,” CEO Nat Friedman said they were already working on a solution. It is unclear how this will work going forward and whether it would affect existing repositories. For now, it seems GitHub is on board.

Thus far, the WordPress proposal has been mostly met with support. However, there was some dissent.

Core contributor Zebulan Stanphill argued that language is oppressive based on context and, in this context, the change does not make sense. “Similarly, no one in their right mind is going to think you support human slavery when you use the term ‘master branch,’” he wrote in the comments of the proposal. “The term ‘master’ itself is already used far outside of the context of slavery. Think novice->pro->master. Think also: mastering the craft, remastering music, and etc.”

As harmless as the word “main” seems in most Western cultures, a comment posted by Mike Schroder (original Japanese text by Takayuki Miyoshi and translation by Shinichi Nishikawa) pointed out that it was problematic in Japanese culture. “In Japan, for example, to put ‘main’ and ‘others’ as different groups has been utilized as an excuse to justify discrimination,” said Miyoshi. “Not caring about suppressing the Ainu people and their culture at all is possible because of the assumption that Yamato folk is the main and others are secondary. I now came to a point to think we should consider that to set one thing as ‘main’ creates marginals that get oppressed.”

Language is not always easy, especially when addressing a global community, each with their own terms that are possibly discriminatory. For now, trunk seems to be a good fit while throwing a nod to WordPress’s SVN roots.

This would not be the first time that WordPress has made a move to change terminology such as this. David Artiss, a Support Engineer at Automattic, created a ticket seven months ago to rename “comment blacklist” to “comment blocklist.” The change, which replaced only the user-facing text, went largely unnoticed and landed in WordPress 5.4.

Jason Coleman, CEO of Stranger Studios, also opened a more extensive ticket two days ago. It calls for changes of any use of “blacklist” to “blocklist” and “whitelist” to “safelist,” even within the code and database options. Such changes would be backward compatible and not break sites upon upgrade.

Change is almost certainly coming. The big decision is going to be around what the new terms will be.

For developers who want to rename the default branches of their own Git repositories, there is an existing project with instructions and a GitHub action for doing so.


59 responses to “Proposal to Rename the ‘Master’ Branch of WordPress-Owned Git Repositories”

  1. / Begin of sarcasm
    Next we need to
    * call MasterCard to change its name as soon as possible
    * start a petition for Metallica to change their album “Master of Puppets” to “Branches of Puppets” because it rhymes and sounds better.
    * Change the name of “Master’s Degree” and call it “Main’s Degree”
    * ask all locksmiths and key-makers to stop calling “Master key” and call it “Da Chosen Key”

    Also, I suggest we stop using the following words: masterful, masterline, mastermind, mastersinger, masterpiece, masterwork, mastership, mastery, schoolmaster

    / End of sarcasm

    Can we get serious please? We have more problems to worry about!

    • Whatever subject you pick, there is pretty much always something more urgent/important. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about it. Small things matter.

      Otherwise governments would never move forward with any other legislation while they concentrate entirely on climate change, poverty, etc. And, in the case of the repo change, this IS important to a lot of people. Use of language is important and, in the case of the Github repos, the use of “master” can be traced right back to master/slave (in preference to any other usage of “master”).

    • When was that ever an issue?

      I never switched the master and slave jumpers on my old HDD and thought about slavery when I did this.

      When I checked out my master branch, I never thought about suppression and racism.
      So is something wrong with the guys who started to make this a topic or with me?

      Thank god we do not have more severe problems than fighting for better education and a more open culture to stop racism in our countries.

      Changing words and starting discussions like this is not helpful at all.

      I think it’s doing precisely the opposite and not doing good at all for preventing racism. It’s probably not suitable for WordPress development at all. It distracts, and people will lose focus on nonsense issues, although they could use their time better to work on things that bring WordPress forward.

      After this, people will see “racism” by other developers in our community even if there is none.
      In a few months, we will see questions popping up like: Is this woman a racist because she did not remove master from her repo?

      I used the female developer in my example because this whole issue reminded me about another hot cooking topic in our community.

      @stefanos Got another one:
      I will never sleep again in my master bedroom.

      Btw. There is sarcasm in my comment, but the truth is I am a friend of human mankind and, … Argh, damn it!
      I mean people of all color, race, and gender! I swear!

        • So what is it about, then? You know, since the word “master” is in no way racist or offensive in this use case. It doesn’t in any way refer to slavery — please explain how you are offended.

      • I completely agree. This is literally searching for a problem to fix. And wasting time talking about something that literally has nothing to do with race, slavery, etc. — rather than talking about the real issues like police brutality. Articles like this are just diluting the actual topic at hand and, IMO, are offensive.

      • Not directly. However, think about its use more widely – what’s the opposite of a blacklist? A whitelist. White=good, black=bad. You see it everywhere – even a traditional US Western often follows the same trope of black and white indicating whether somebody is a hero or a wrong ‘un. It’s these kinds of stereotypes that cause harm and, you know what? There’s no need for them. There are other terms we can use and it’s really easy to change them.

        • The white equals good, and black equals bad stuff sounds racist. I assume the light and dark stereotype comes from nighttime being scary and daytime being not scary.

          I think it is condescending to assume that POC can’t handle the word master especially when the context has nothing to do with slavery. This whole thing started as Microsoft marketing to take advantage of the moment. Which is it’s own kind of disgusting.

          Wanting to change master, whitelist, and blacklist is the racist side of the argument. It is a condescending low effort move that assume white equals good. It has no positive impact on those communities. It will make a bunch of mostly white people feel good about helping those POC who can’t stand up to a branch name on their own.

          If you really want to help. Start by asking POC what would help. If you are too scared for that you can donate to BLM, food access, scholarship programs, or whatever.

          I expect that those who want to make changes like this are not actually willing to sacrifice anything they care about. Sorry if I am wrong here, and you already participate in those communities.

        • what’s the opposite of a blacklist? A whitelist. White=good, black=bad.
          It’s these kinds of stereotypes that cause harm and, you know what?

          Nope, you are making false assumptions! It’s no stereotype because a blacklist has nothing to do with black people. If you are a coder: It’s more like a boolean value. There is no other meaning in it. It does not mean white = good = white people = white people are good or the opposite.

          You are extracting a word out of context and give it another meaning when you start censoring words like white, black, master, and so on due to that reason.

          If I see a person, I don’t see or care her/his color of the skin. I recognize the person as a human, no matter what gender or skin color he/she has.
          I bet 99% of all other people here think the same and none of these people ever thought about it, including you!
          Or did you ever felt this before this whole discussion came up?

          I am sure you do this in only good intentions, but you are doing precisely the opposite without knowing it. It feeds stereotypes due to false assumptions. In a while, people will only see the result of that wrong move and will think that a blacklist has something in common with black people.

          More people will start to censor using certain words from their language repository because “white” people wanted to fight against racism by giving other words racist meanings.

          If I code or write something, I don’t want to continuously reminded by “white” people not to use word A or B for bizarre reasons.

          If you want to, let’s prevent “blacklist” entirely from our language and name it the b-word.

          Guys, please don’t pollute our community with this stuff. Shout out loud if you are against racism but do this on demonstration in your home town or in social media where you address the right people but don’t bring up this topic into our international, open minded and friendliest community on this planet. Do we have issues here with black developers who were coded to death?
          You are addressing the wrong people here with this non-sense issue but it triggers me because I was glad to be part of a community where racism has never been a problem. Now I am concerned that we get into a spiral where we constantly have to take care of what we say and how we say.


    • Hello!
      Why do you think the terms whitelist and blacklist need to go?

      It seems they are not related to human races at all. They just use “black vs white” analogy just like “light vs dark”.
      Supposedly the freemasons needed unanimity to allow a new member to join. So they all expresed their vote with white balls for positive and black balls for negative (again, nothing to do with race). If only one of them voted negative, it’s said the aspirant was “black-balled”. I don’t think that’s even the origin of the symbolic use of these colors. Black hides and White exposes. That’s literally what a blacklist and whitelists are. All in the blacklist stays in the dark, hidden, forbidden. While in the white they are allowed and visible. It’s just an ancient concept not related to race at all .

      I found very disgusting try to link everything to racism nowadays after the society is conmotioned by a brutal and unfair police crime. If the victim was white, is as unfair as this. I know, you’ll say “if he would’ve been white the police wouldnt have killed him”… so what? This police officer was a racist or had a bias/prejudging towards black people, that doesn’t make this crime worse that the very same crime, without the race issue. It’s horrible one way or another.
      Trying to link everything with racism is more racist in the end

    • Language is also a Technology, Sir. Actually, being analogic and digital as it is, it becomes even more important. We should call language as a technology with Caps lock indeed, (borrowing from you this caps Lock idea)… Language influences on the way of thinking breakthroughs… “Slave” in terminology is an option, therefore a manifestation of psycological desires. It pushes similar energies. It is not enough to summarize here. We live in a “technopoly” (I offer you the suggestion of this great book). Therefore, as the real “Core technology”, in which WordPress is only a component, language can and it needs to have its trac tickets to be solved, improved. The opposite direction is the scary question: shall we stop improving? Why is less important to solve the foundation of society?
      Just imagine if WordPress were to decide: no more updates. We’re fine… Unthinkable.

      This is a comment section, I have no intention to make the decent considerations that this technology deserves (Language), but just to be clear: entire sciences are devoted to Language studies. Why? What do they see of so important on this technology that we don’t see? If we don’t study it, what are losing? Am I in position of neglecting language in favor of another technology compared to someone it studies it for 30 years? Just some provocations extracted from a bigger scientific debate, (in the best intention.. it could be no diferent). Because it is strange how many people have arguments against this matter suddenly…
      Mary from London

    • You missed a word in “core contributors”. It should read “volunteer core contributors”. That word is important as it demonstrates that what we spend our time working on is voluntary and, in many cases, personal.

      As a straight, white, western male, I know my position of privilege and want to do something, however, small towards it. Language is extremely powerful and making references to master (in a master/slave relationship way), black (meaning something negative, as in blacklist and whitelist), etc., is both unwarranted and damaging.

      I was the person behind removing the word “blacklist” from WordPress and I fully, strongly support having the Github branch renamed (I’ve already started renaming my own repos). And I don’t intend to stop.

      Am I a “radical leftist”. Not at all. My own, personal views are more centrist. But I believe in fairness, equality and, well, just being nice to each other. It’s really not to ask of the human race in the 21st century, is it?

      • It’s precisely because of the observation of the connection between language and power that this proposal should be resisted. It’s a power-play by a particular subset of North American culture to assert control of the language and the narrative, and make their interpretation normative within the WordPress project. It’s not WordPress groups in Lagos, or WordPress Uganda, or WordPress Chennai, which has orginated and campaigned for these ideas, is it? It’s, in cultural terms, WordPress California. The coastal regions of America are telling us that those who believe in fairness, equality and – really, anyone at all who wants to be nice to eachother – will henceforth use language precisely as you do. That’s, as I say, a pure power-play. A universal meta-narrative that is proposed to be imposed upon everyone else and will become a new standard to judge, control and censor by.

    • I do want to make a note that this comment is really pushing the limits of our comment policy. I want people to be able to voice their opinions, even in opposition of proposals that we cover here. However, let’s make sure to do so in a way that is conducive to open and friendly discussion. Folks don’t have to agree, but they can disagree without calling ideas “crap” or “garbage.”

  2. This change is so important.
    Although WordPress doesn’t explicitly mentions “slave” on the code, “master” is related on that sense. At the point that many (many!) Plugins mention master and slave branches on their repositories. If so irrelevant as critics argue this matter is, so it should not be difficult to solve this issue. Never to lose in sight, that oppresive language may not affect your life, but they normalize and reinforce their meaning. It becomes acceptable to even consider slavery in code.. no surprise that slavery still exists im the world, no surprise that a dignified job is still a distannt dream (even on the USA, Just Look at its south border – just saying). We should always strive for being better, and Language is another technology – If imperfect by our own means, them at least we can correct it instead of thinking some things are “natural” and unrrelated to the bigger picture.

    • Why people assumes that if there are “master” branches, there should be “slave” branches?
      I had never thought of it in that terms until this.
      Master was always master, as in “master bedroom”, “master record”, etc.
      It’s not oppresive language.
      Calling “oppresive language” to anything will only devaluate and devirtuate the term. It will backfire its own movement.

      • “I had never thought of it in that terms until this.”

        Precisely. Politicising previously mundane speech and polarising based upon it is not a step forward. Where will it end?

        If “master” is actually a coded, approving reference to the race-based slavery of 19th century America, what will this say about all those who continue to use the word after a suitable period of time to educate them has passed and they haven’t repented?

      • But, Tom, the assertion that “master” is actually an irredeemable and approving reference to race-based slavery as practised in 19th-century America is not a step forward in inclusiveness. Not least because that assertion as a matter of how languages function is simply wrong, it’s divisive and polarising. Have you read, for example, Olu A’s comment that he actually finds it far more offensive to be patronised in this way?

        • It’s absolutely more offensive to be patronized in this way, than the actual use of the word “master” which, again, means the “main” branch of a software repository (and is/was in no way related to slavery). Look how far out of scope we’ve gone — this is political correctness run absolutely a muck, where people are literally searching for things to be offended by. This is disgraceful.

  3. I wish the WordPress project would wait to find out what the new industry-standard name will be before making their own decision. It doesn’t make sense to do their own thing if GitHub (and potentially down the line, git itself) decide on a different term. Sure “trunk” is a nod to SVN but… if anything, that’s the perfect reason NOT to choose that.

  4. I support this. This should be top priority for the WP team.

    If WP isn’t inclusive of ALL genders, ALL sexualities and isn’t sensitive to ALL people, then we’re going to have bigger and bigger problems going forward.

        • There is no such thing as exclusive language. Language is nothing but an abstract concept. It’s people who give meaning to words and language.

          As such, terms like black, white, or master only become racist or exclusive if we give them a racist or exclusive meaning. And what does that say about the people who give words such a meaning?

          The usage of, for example, master & slave in technology refers again to an abstract relationship model of master being in command of slave (simplified). This relationship in and of itself again isn’t harmful, oppressive or racist. It only becomes harmful and oppressive if it is applied towards living creatures – probably humans -, and only racist if master is of a different race than master.

          And then, following the same overbearing political correctness, shouldn’t we ban the word “huMAN”? Even “WoMAN”? Shouldn’t we find more inclusive terms that don’t reference the word “man” to describe a diverse group of people?

  5. “This is a small move, but if it makes one more person comfortable contributing to a WordPress project, it will be worth it,”

    Even if it makes 57 other contributors uncomfortable.

    Anyway, at this point, I am certain of one thing: Historians – assuming there will be any – will look back on this period and scarcely be able to conjure the words to describe it. At least not in any Indo-European language, all of which were banned as hate speech in 2054. Because -ism -ist -phobia… or feelings… some people’s feelings, that is… or something.

    Who knows.

  6. There problem here, like many other things is education.

    The word master here has nothing to do with a master/slave relationship between systems. A better replacement for master/slave is actually controller/worker, and I think that’s actually more descriptive of the relationship. Git, however, is a distributed version control system and as such does away with that concept. You have local nodes and remote nodes.

    The word master is not a noun but an adjective. In exactly the same way as “master bedroom”. The “master branch” is similarly an adjective usage. That definition is exactly: “main; principal”.

    Additionally we should not forget that “master” as a noun might simply be an old English way of addressing the person in charge of an estate. As when Alfred addresses Bruce Wayne as “Master Bruce”.

    You can’t try to police thought like this. It’s a war of attrition. Bad actors will always find a way to make words offensive. Usage and tone allow for it.

    FWIW: I say this as a minority whose people were tricked and enslaved by white Americans.

    • Quite correct, Aaron. This chaotic move by various industries accomplishes nothing but disorder, and most people likely don’t even want it. Banning words based on irrelevant context is complete nonsense. The WordPress community and others need to listen more broadly to their base. They’ll likely find enough people DO NOT support these moves.

  7. Sticks and stones can break my bones but an ordinary word can cause me serious mental distress and prevent me from participating in a open source project? That sounds like a very condescending attitude towards black American people on the part of US leftists. Yes, I write American since from what I can tell the US leftist don’t care about anything outside of the US. It’s just US US US all the time. Stupid US internal leftist virtue signaling that is forced upon the rest of the world.

    Did you know that slavery is prevalent in Africa and that there are 9 million slaves in Africa today? I’m sure they will be very happy that an open source project changes a word from master to trunk. Yay, progressive white Americans you are making the world better.

  8. The WordPress community and other tech companies making these drastic changes need to listen more broadly to their communities. They’ll likely find most people don’t want this. Most people recognize it does nothing for the fight against racism, and that the context of these words have nothing to do with race. To surrender these words with their unrelated context HONORS racism and keeps it alive. Think more broadly. Think realistically. To know these words have totally different meanings and context is to not be shackled by the evils of this world.

    As well, you’ll NEVER keep from offending someone. And there are people who are either offended / over-sensitive because they’re not coping healthily, and you’ll have others claiming they’re offended strictly for political or sadistic purposes to control others.

    These are terrible moves – please reconsider.

  9. I cannot believe these changes are actually being discussed. Here in Nigeria I have never once heard a person being offended by the term master branch, or master and slave processes.

    The find the discussion between a bunch of white Americans that think we are so sensitive we can’t hear the word master in a context without being offended way more offensive than the word itself.

    Look, I have ancestors that were taken into slavery, my father’s father was taken on a boat over to America on a boat for 3 months into a foreign land, yes that offends me. I am aware that people living these days are vastly, vastly not responsible – and anyone who thinks of the people that took my grandfather when running ‘git push origin master’ – is probably way more racist than those who don’t give a second thought about it, and we can do without your pity.

    When people all jump on policing a language like this, it distracts from the actual cause. And I have not even seen one black person who agrees with this change. People will not hear our voice of the important causes because things like this are ridiculous and do anger people, and they think we all think like this.

    This was not meant to turn into a rant.

    • Agree! After this (and other) language changes we, perhaps we should look at whose WordPress voices are heard and whose are not.

      If the leadership does not consist of inclusive voices of all races, ethnicities, genders and sexualities, then what good was it to change words?

  10. I am not against this idea, but I really think we need to hear from the BIPOC people in our community (and the tech industry at large). The sentiment is great, but amplifying the voices of BIPOC members of our community and having a conversation about it seems like a best practice (that only leads to better practices if that continues (as it should)), and avoids overcompensation for white guilt, or getting so anti-racist that it becomes racist in a different way. Nothing wrong with getting rid of offensive language, but I think it needs to be a conversation with those who are potentially the most effected leading that conversation.

  11. As a linguist, I say words are unimportant, until they are important. Sure, words have meanings, but they are never fixed, and they only derive meaning from the context in which they are used. Do we need new terminology? Maybe, maybe not. One thing you can count on, however, is even if you make a change now, it won’t save you from unforeseen trouble down the line. Language is always evolving.

    Having said that, while I support terminological changes, especially blacklist/whitelist, I do NOT support the use of `blocklist!! I’ll allow deny-list, but introducing blocklist is a problem because its meaning is opaque. We already have block used in CSS, and block used in the Gutenberg project, which means blocklist introduces a third meaning for block. We don’t need that, especially when we are being intentional about adjusting our nomenclature.

  12. Ironically, introducing the idea that “master” invokes or functions as a reference to race-based slavery, or that “blacklist” relies upon a supposed derogatory reference to skin-colour, is bringing in a racial context where there was none before. Is that really a step forward?

    Allowing people who have an inadequate grasp of how human language functions to declare new areas that all right-thinking people should be offended by will not solve problems; rather, it will open the door to whole new categories of them. If you allow linguistic illiteracy to set the terms, then there’ll be no end to it.

    So, if “whitelist” is supposed to imply or insinuate a doctrine of white supremacy (really, whoever thought that before they were told that it’s what righteous people think?), then presumably everybody who continues to use such a term must be at the very best ignorant. If they persist in their belief even after being “educated”, presumably they’re malevolent and action should be taken against them? Where will this take us? Or if someone fails to promote the language changes with sufficient enthusiasm, they could be suspect; perhaps the witch-hunt should turn to focus on them. This sort of change implicitly announces open season for this sort of McCarthyism.

    Are the majority of pixels on this website white because the proprietors are white supremacists? Does the “about” page say that they want “enlightening discussions” because they think that darker skin is associated with ignorance and that anyone with above average melanin in their skin should buy skin-lightening products to look more beautiful? Are these questions a) the silliest ones you’ve heard for a long time, which only someone who sees all of life through the lens of race (how can that be healthy?) would take seriously, or b) ones people will be taking seriously in a short while or c) both? Who can say? It doesn’t appear to be reason or a sane grasp of how languages work that’s driving this.

    English is a world language, not a parochial North-American possession. Cultural spasms and insecurities amongst 21st century North-American liberals should not lead to a drive to pollute the language for everyone else. There’s something ironically paternalistic about a particular sub-group of the world’s English speakers making these arbitrary declarations about how these terms really work (in contradiction of how the rest of the English-speaking world, including the Anglophone parts of Africa and Asia, previously understood them) and then demanding that the rest of the world must now confirm to them (whilst supposedly doing it on their behalf). The people of Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, Delhi, etc., being told “American liberals have determined that these terms are offensive, and that you were being oppressed by them, even though you never knew it – you should be grateful!” will be a very strange place to end up.

  13. I know I’m only a minority voice among many but this whole discussion doesn’t have any sense. Removing words that in their intention are totally unrelated to racism just because ‘they look like so’ is nonsense.
    In the western culture:
    black = night = unknown = hidden danger = bad
    white = day = light = warmth = certainty = good

    That racism is directed mainly toward black people is an unfortunate coincidence that doesn’t have anything to do with the meaning that we have given to white and black since well before black slavery was even a thing.
    And talking about slavery, Americans didn’t invent it. Slavery has existed since humankind itself, it’s been the driving force behind the Roman empire and Romans didn’t enslave only black people, they enslaved any people that they conquered regardless of their skin color.

    This discussion of removing terms like blacklist or master is confusing correlation and causation.

    I’ll keep using the branch ‘master’ in my personal projects regardless of what the WP community decides. And I won’t certainly think of a white man going around with a whip screaming to black people when I use it.

  14. Unfortunately, we are seeing how politics is overtaking reasonable sense. If it was about common sense, it’s enough to go through any similar discussion and you can clearly see that majority of users do not support this change. It’s not supported for WordPress and it’s not supported for GitHub.

    The open source community was built by many great people. And, unfortunately, it will be destroyed by a small bunch of politically-blind people :-(

    This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.

    Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.


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