Bulk Rename Existing Documents

Bulk Rename Existing Documents

Better Rename
I have said over and over that having a naming convention for your files is the biggest thing you can do to be able to find your paperless documents when you need them.

The best way (in my opinion) to approach this is to start with your new files coming in. Get your workflow sorted, come up with your naming convention, and go. Initially, don’t worry about those documents you already have scanned.

Then once you have things rolling, you can decide if it makes sense to rename your old files.

Know Where You Are Starting From

The ease of your historical renaming project will depend a lot on what your existing file names are.

For example, if you have a bunch of files called XYZCorp contract.pdf, you have more to work off of than a bunch of files called contract.pdf or 201203231155.pdf. You want to take a look at what existing data you can use.

You may be surprised at what information that you have. Maybe your existing filenames aren’t useful but the folder they are in is. You can use that.

Decide Cost vs. Benefit

You could manually go through every PDF you have from the past ten years, and maybe it is valuable to you to do so. Or you can use some tools to get your historical names good enough, and just worry about having things perfect for the new files.

I can’t tell you which approach is the best for you, but don’t let stressing out about the decision hold you back from taking action.

Use A Bulk Renaming Tool

There are tools out there that can make bulk renaming fast and easy. If you have a tool that has worked for you, leave it in the comments.

A personal example. When I first started going paperless, I named all my files like this:


Later on, I decided I wanted to change it to:


I did not have a bulk renaming tool at the time, but I did have Hazel, so I created a rule that went through my document archive and renamed it appropriately.

One program I like is called Better Rename 9 on the Mac App Store or A Better Finder Rename directly from the developer. They make a Windows version called Better File Rename.

Tools like these make it fast and easy to do some pretty complex bulk renaming actions.

Better Rename Categories

As you can see in the above image, you can rename by replacing text, insert information at a specific position in the filename, add numbers, datestamps, rename based on tags, and many other operations.

Here’s an example of the sorts of things you can do with text in your filename:

Better Rename Text

Here is an example of how you can add a date stamp to your old files:

Better Rename Date

Earlier I mentioned that even if you don’t have helpful file names, you may be able to use the folder name. Here’s the setting for that:

Better Rename Parent Folder

A Renaming Example

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say I have a bunch of files I want to rename. They’re project based and I want to do the following:

  • Add the date stamp in the YYYY-MM-DD format to the beginning of the file. I’ll use the create date for this.
  • Rename the file with the client name. In this case my file name doesn’t have the client name, but the folder name does.

Here are the “before” files:

Better Rename Before

I’ve created my rules and dragged in my entire Projects folder. You can see that it is (thankfully) giving me a preview of what it is about to do:

Better Rename Preview

Here is the “after”, with the files all renamed:

Better Rename After

A simple example, but you get the idea of what is possible.

Again, there are many tools out there that will do all or some of this. I have heard that Bulk Rename Utility is a good free one for Windows, and starting with Yosemite you can even do some of this in the Finder.

However you do it, going through and applying your naming convention to your old files will take some work, but will pay off when you really need to find that PDF from six years ago.

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 4 comments

Jim B. - January 8, 2015 Reply

Just received/installed iX500 yesterday to start my year going paperless. Question: do you recommend using rack2-filer (came with it) or ScanSnap Organizer at the final location of my scanned documents? I think they’re both meant to do the same thing, correct?

    Brooks Duncan - January 8, 2015 Reply

    It’s personal preference. I am not a big fan of Rack2-Filer myself. If I was choosing between the two I’d go with ScanSnap Organizer, but you can always play with them and see which one you like better.

Jennifer Lyle - January 3, 2015 Reply

I like the idea of naming conventions, but get stuck in execution.

Some of my sticking points:
(1) I understand that one would want to add client (or topic) name. I’m not so convinced about dates, eg file creation, because that exists anyway, so why repeat it in the file name?
(2) Beyond that top-level info of client/topic +, possibly, date, then what? If the only information in the name is the client/topic and date, then how do I know what’s contained in that file?
(3) My file naming has some thought to it, but I don’t have an overall naming system and I’m frequently adjusting things as my needs evolve. Currently I often rely on Mac’s Spotlight search to find what I need.
(4) In terms of an overall naming system, because my needs evolve, how do I create something that can remain consistent over time? For example, we’re now writing / publishing books. I might need to look for info on my hard drive related to ‘Book cover descriptions.” And Spotlight might not serve, because i may not have that copy in my documents. In the heat of creation and deadlines, how do I keep track of naming conventions and consistency so I can find something down the road?

    Brooks Duncan - January 5, 2015 Reply

    Great questions! First, I’ll say you should do what works for you so if something is working, go for it.

    1) I definitely do not recommend relying on the create or modification dates of files. Those can very easily become messed up. I highly recommend putting the date in the name – you can then easily eyeball a file to see what it is, it will naturally sort by date in a folder (if you put it first), and you are protected no matter where the files are and what happens to them.

    2) It depends on the file. For example for me, my cable bill is 2015_01_05-Shaw.pdf. I know by looking at it that it is my Shaw bill. However, if I dealt with multiple types of documents from Shaw, maybe I’d have 2015_01_05-Shaw-Bill.pdf, 2015_01_05-Shaw_Contract.pdf etc. Be as descriptive as you need to be.

    3) That’s exactly what I do too. If I need a file it is using Spotlight (well more accurately it is usually using Alfred, but that uses Spotlight on the back end).

    4) One thing that can help is using TextExpander. Most of my file naming is done via TextExpander snippets as in this video: http://www.documentsnap.com/rename-paperless-textexpander/. Then I know it will always be consistent.

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