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Digital Projects Toolkit: File Naming

Digital Collection Mangement: File Naming

File Naming: Overview

A file name is the primary identifier for digital files. It is the first thing you see. So, the importance of file names cannot be understated.

A file naming convention is a framework for naming files. Developing a plan (file naming convention) and sticking to it is vital. You need to be consistent and descriptive. Doing so will help maintain a well-organized collection, and things will be easy to mange and retrieve.

A logical and consistent file naming convention:

  • helps organize collections during active use
  • allows for better maintenance and management
  • provides more efficient access
File Naming: Best Practices

When possible, include the date in the file name.

  • A good format for dates is YYYY-MM-DD (or YYYMMDD).
  • This ensures your files will stay in chronological order.
  • Avoid using spaces in your file names (like "Meeting Minutes 1974").
    • Spaces are not always recognized by software, or they might be misread. This can lead to errors, or the software inserting special characters to compensate for the spaces.

Do NOT use special characters

  • # @ + % ! ? = * < > | " $ { } ; :
  • Special characters may be good for passwords, but not for file names. Special characters are not always recognized by software. You want to make sure your files can be opened by these programs, so it important to avoid special characters.

Use underscores (file_name), hyphens (file-name), camel case (FileName), or no separation (filename).


Keep file names brief, but descriptive. They should be short and sweet.

  • Do not make file names too long. File names are not a database record.

File names should also be unique.

  • You should not have two files with the exact same name.
  • Most operating systems (like Windows) does not allow you to have files with the same name saved in the same folder.

For sequential numbering (especially in the case of books or documents with many pages), use leading zeros to ensure the files stay in the right order.

  • Your collections may get larger. Your file naming convention should accommodate for this. So make sure to plan ahead and use enough leading zeros so you do not have to go back and rename everything.
  • If you do not use leading zeros, some software will group like numbers together instead of the proper chronological order (so 10-19 will follow 1 instead of 2, 3, etc.)
    • Example: 1, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 2, 20, 21, etc.
  • Example: File-Name-0001, File-Name-0002, File-Name-0003, etc.
File Naming: Examples

The Good:

  • SmithWeddingFargo1952.jpg
  • 19520521-SmithWedding-Fargo.tif

The Bad:

  • Minutes July 22.docx
  • Meeting Minutes.pdf
  • Scan1.tif

The Ugly:

  • 3b4f2556e95862cwbf7.png
File Naming: Batch Renaming

If you have many files to rename, consider using a batch renaming software, such as Advanced Renamer or Bulk Rename Utility. This will save a lot of time and effort. Consult the Hardware & Software page for more information.

File Naming: Additional Resources