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File Naming Rules

Friday, December 22nd, 2006 by | Filed Under: File & Disk Management

Do you do a lot of work with documents that constantly have to be saved? Well, if you do, you should know that the first time you save a file, you should choose a “file name” for it to be stored under. Note that some programs will automatically put a file name in for you, but it is much better if you name your own files. That way, you have a better chance of finding them later on.

The first time you save your work, you should use the Save As command to tell your computer what “file name” you want to save your work in. (In some programs, if you use the Save command, the first time you save, it will act as if you clicked on the Save As command anyway, but this is only in some programs. So, all in all, you should develop a habit of using the Save As command the first time you save a new file). The Save As and Save commands are usually under the File menu as well.

So, when you are typing a new document in your word processing program, the first time you go to save it, click on File to bring the menu down and then click on Save As to bring its dialogue box up.

In the Save As dialogue box, you can tell your computer where to put your file and what to call it. I won’t get into where to put your file here, except to say that if the computer is putting your files in the My Documents folder, that is fine for now. You can always go and change it later.

Next, you have to tell your computer what “file name” to save your file under. You should name your file according to what is in it. For example, if it is a letter to your son, John, call it “Letter to John.” Don’t just name it “Letter.” That is too vague. When you name your file (on a computer run with Microsoft Windows), there are some computer requirements.

  • Use letters and/or numbers.
  • Use no punctuation whatsoever, especially no periods.

In fact, your file names can contain some punctuation, but some of the punctuation characters have special meanings to the computer and cannot be used. Your file names can contain apostrophes, dashes, underscores and commas, but it is much easier to remember the rules if you use only letters and/or numbers, while avoiding all punctuation.

You can even use periods, but you should not put periods near the end of the file name or at least, within the last four characters. If you accidentally use a period near the end of your file name, you will probably have trouble getting that file back again later. If this happens, a technician can help you get your file back again, but that’s a big pain.

Here are some examples of good file names:

2009 Taxes for Bob Smith
Personal Budget 2008
Car Prices 2009
Investment Notes from June 2007 Course
Daily Weight for John, Starting March 2008
To Do List
Letter to Grandma, February 23, 2009

Note the use of two commas in this last file name. This is okay and it is rather handy, but just be careful not to use periods, especially at the end of your file names.

Here are some examples of bad file names (the problem is listed beside each one):

John This does not say what is in the file (if this is a letter, calculations, genealogy information, etc).
Letter This does not say who it is for.
Letter to John. This has a period at the end of it, which causes problems.
To Do List March 20/09 This file name has a slash ( / ) between the 20 and the 09. The computer will not accept this.
Letter to “Mom” The quotes around Mom will not be accepted by the computer.
Interest * Principal – List of Payments This file has an asterisk ( * ) in it, which the computer will not accept. The dash ( – ) is okay.

So, rather than memorizing all the details and risk having a problem, keep it simple. When you name a file, use only letters and/or numbers, with no punctuation marks. This will make everything easier on you and on your computer!

~ Ramachandran Kumaraswami

2 Responses to “File Naming Rules”

  1. carl swierczak says:

    Not a comment, but a question. I am an Adult with ADD and OCD. The ADD and aging are making it difficult to remember/find files on my flash drive. The OCD tends to make me be too specific; but not logically oriented. I have begun creating names using categories and subcategories in a name such as “book_series_author_l.e.modesitt” and “depression_motivation_science of” and “depression_motivation_adults with ADHD_9 ways to get motivated”. But older names “exercises_quadratus lumborum” contrasted with “health_muscles-stretching_backpain” or “healing_hives_natural home remedies” or “hypomania warning signs” vary widely. Currently I’m trying to begin with a rather broad catagory and “step-down” alost like scientific nomenclature which uses “Genus, subgenus, species, subspecies, variety”. The problem is I often am not sure of the broadest or most comprehensive category (like “Health”) to begin with. If there were a “File Naming for People with Very Poor Memories: an easy, logical process that will enable you to always find any file you need”; I’d get it out of the library. Is there some guideline or PDF online that could help me? I am often stumped on a file name I will be sure I can locate. Virtually all the suggestions say nothing about doing so for miscellaneous file naming that is NOT related to business or home financial concerns.

    • cynthia says:

      You could check out the library of Congress classification system. There are clickable links on this page to show how they sub-divide various categories such as Medicine.

      I might also suggest that where you want to do your sorting may be in your file folders and not necessarily no specifically in the names of your files.

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