Naming files and folders

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This page is a translated version of the page Naamgeving van mappen en bestanden and the translation is 100% complete.
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One important aspect, when drawing up a plan for how to organise your archive and/or collections, is how to name individual files and folders. A good naming system is important for both paper and digital archives. Below, we list some guidelines that can be useful when choosing suitable file and folder names.

Naamgeving mappen.jpg


Naming folders

When drawing up a plan for organising your archive and/or collections, it’s important to devise a good system for clearly naming all your folders and sub-classifications. Make sure that everyone interprets these names in the same way, and there’s no possibility of confusion or overlapping. We advise adopting the naming system used for the model organisational plans, although this is of course not compulsory. As long as the names of the classification levels are clear, logical and consistent, you’re completely free to choose them for yourself.

Giving all classification levels or folders clear and unique names – so that all employees interpret them consistently – creates order and a good overview, and means you can find the documents you need faster. A clear folder name also makes it easier to create full dossiers on specific subjects, which benefits collaborations with your colleagues.

Avoid excessive use of abbreviations, which might not be immediately clear for everyone and can lead to confusion. New colleagues in particular can often have difficulties getting to grips with a system that uses too many. But if your organisation still wants to use abbreviations in this plan, it is recommended to create an overview that lists them all to help your colleagues.

It is also recommended to use hierarchical numbering to provide added clarity when naming your classification levels. A system like this makes it easy to find specific folders in the organisational plan, and communicate a certain document’s location in the folder structure to your colleagues. You are free to choose your own numbering system.

Example of hierarchical numbering in an organisational plan

Naming in a digital archive

There are additional rules for naming files and folders in a digital archive, mainly for technical reasons. The use of certain characters and symbols in the names can for example cause computers to interpret them incorrectly and perform unwanted actions.

Stick to the following rules when naming digital files and folders:

  • Only use the following characters:
    • Letters: a-z and A-Z
    • Numbers: 0-9
    • Underscore _ and dash -
  • Never use the following characters. The computer might interpret them as commands to execute certain operations or replace them with other characters.
    • Spaces
    • Punctuation: ! ? . , ; : ( ) ’
    • Diacritic characters: é à ù ç è
    • Special characters: / * % @ | # § $
  • Choose a meaningful and unique naming system – short but strong – which everyone can understand.
  • It’s best to limit the number of folder levels to 5, or 8 at an absolute maximum. If you go deeper than this, the path length becomes too long for the document and you run the risk of computers no longer being able to locate the folders or read the files.
  • Use the same structure for every folder name. Avoid using a person’s name or words such as ‘Various’ or ‘Other’ as folder names.

‘2014_Photos’ is better than ‘Photos from 2014’, for example.

Just like with paper archives, it is recommended to start each folder name with a number. Computers generally want to organise folders alphanumerically, and this enables you to retain the logical order you have used for the folders. Numbering can also add a hierarchy to limit the number of levels.

Bear in mind that a computer will place folders that start with numbers 10 to 19 between 1 and 2. You should therefore combine the number with letters or fill in the ‘empty’ spaces (01, 02, 09, 10, 11).

Naming files

Giving digital files a clear, identifiable name means you can find the file you’re looking for faster without needing to open all the documents one by one. A fixed structure in your filenames also ensures that your computer can order the files alphabetically or chronologically.

The same naming rules and basic principles apply for files as for folders [only use a-z, A-Z, 0-9, _ and -, and do not use ! ? . , ; : ( ) é à ù ç è / * % @ | # § $].

Filenames must be short but strong, and preferably follow a fixed structure which you establish in consultation with your colleagues. The document’s contents partly determine how to name the file, which can include the following components:

  • Type of document: report, agenda, expenses form, grant application, etc. Agreed abbreviations can possibly be used for this, but make sure they are explained in a centralised list.
  • Author: if different authors are working on the same version of a document, or it is protected by copyright (e.g. a photo), it can be worth including their names in the title. You might want to make an agreement within your organisation just to use initials for this.
  • Sender and/or addressee: it is best to include these in titles for email messages, possibly as initials.
  • Project or classification number: this can be useful for series that are already numbered, such as order forms. Placing the number at the start of the filename ensures the computer automatically orders the files correctly.
  • Version control: always make a distinction between different versions or iterations of the same text, so you can be sure you’re always working with the latest version. It’s best to use abbreviations such as: v0_1, v1, v1_1, v2.
  • Date: always include the document’s date of creation in the title. This is because computers only show the date of the last modification, e.g. in Windows Explorer, which can cause confusion. Always use the structure YYYYMMDD. Placing the date at the start of the filename means you can easily order your digital documents chronologically.

Each filename is followed by a dot and an extension (e.g. .docx, .ppt, .jpeg). These are automatically added by the computer. Some operating systems, such as macOS, do not display the extension but it is still there in the background so you don’t need to add it yourself. Never change the extension as this could prevent the file from opening.

Some examples of digital filenames are:

  • WorkshopDigitalWeek.docx
  • Presentation_AnnualReport_20191130.pptx
  • 20160817_Report_board_of_directors.pdf
  • 20070112_KL_OP_purchase_equipment.msg

Note: the combination of the number of levels (folders in folders) and the length of folder and file names determines a file’s path length. Systems such as Windows can only read a limited number of characters in this path (often a maximum of 255 characters). You can use the simple Path Scanner (Windows) tool to check path lengths.

Renaming files

When introducing new rules for naming files and folders, you of course also need to update the existing names. Proceed with caution! The following points for attention are crucial for ensuring that your files can be renamed without any hitches:

  • Make a copy of a folder containing different types of files so that you can experiment safely. Never work in the original folder structure.
  • Find a suitable procedure or working method for naming files within your organisation, taking the above principles into account.
  • Test the guidelines out on different types of documents and in different folders; adjust your working method if necessary.
  • Draw up an internal document to clearly explain the working method.
  • Organise an information session to clearly explain the principles to your colleagues in simple terms. Make sure you also keep new employees, trainees and volunteers informed.
  • Adapt the internal agreements if problems arise.

Do you want to rename a whole series of files (e.g. images) all at once? Below you can find three programs that allow you to give good names to documents and photos in bulk:


Author: Het Firmament, Sanne Van Bellingen, Florian Daemen (AMVB)