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File naming

File naming

A file naming convention should be agreed to and adopted by the entire group at the beginning of the project. Decide what elements are relevant and what are not when you start creating your file naming convention, then document it so other users of your data (collaborators, coworkers etc) can understand it quickly.

File name elements

File name elements can be any information that is relevant to your project. Here some common elements that could be included in a file name:

  • Acronym/Identifier for project or experiment (2-5 letters).
  • Experimental treatment.
  • Content or instrument.
  • Initials of team/department/creator.
  • Subject ID (animal, human, sediment).
  • Run of experiment (sequential).
  • Information on location.
  • A date in a standard format (YYYYMMDD).
  • Status information (i.e. draft or final, raw or processed).
  • Version number: use ordinal numbers (1,2,3) for major revisions and decimals for minor changes (1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2).

File naming convention do’s and don’ts


  • Make it unique, descriptive and informative about the content.
  • Keep it consistent and logical.
  • Make it independent of the location of the file on a computer.
  • Use alphanumeric characters only.
  • Use underscore, dash, CamelCase or hyphens for separation.
  • Keep it short (less than 32 characters).
  • keep the file extension at the end.
  • Use multiple digits (eg. 001 rather than 1) when numbering.


  • Use special characters.
  • Use space for separation.


Polymer3 measured on GC-MS machine 1 on the September 1 2018”, Ghent University.

This is most likely a picture or digitisation of the first page of a letter dated 18 March 1963 from Lyndon B. Johnson to John F. Kennedy. The date is placed first and the page number is placed last so that the researcher can sort documents alphabetically to put them in order”, The Graduate Institute Geneva.

This illegible file name can only make sense if it is accompanied with a codebook. This documentation will let you understand the detailed information displayed within the file name. In specific cases – such as massive generic file collections –, this approach can make a lot of sense, as long as the naming convention is well-documented”, The Graduate Institute Geneva.


Some useful tools for file naming can be found here. Bulk renaming of files can be done with the Bulk Rename Utility in Windows, or with software such as Ant Renamer, RenameIT or Rename4Mac.

Sources and further reading