Seven Characters You Can’t Use in Worksheet Names

Seven Characters

Comedian George Carlin became famous in 1972 for a monologue that delineated the seven words you can never say on television. With homage to the esteemed Mr. Carlin, in this article I'll present the seven characters that you can't use when naming Excel worksheets. I'll also provide the backstory on why you can't assign the name History to an Excel worksheet.

Excel worksheets start out with generic names, such as Sheet1, Sheet2, and so on. There are a couple of ways that you can rename a worksheet:

  • Double-click on the worksheet tab, and type a new name as illustrated in Figure 1.
  • Right-click on the worksheet tab, and choose Rename as illustrated in Figure 1.
  • Display the Visual Basic Editor, turn on both the Project Explorer and Properties windows, and then change the Name property as illustrated in Figure 2. Notice the nuance here; you can't change the (Name) property as that's a hidden code name for the worksheet that can be used within Excel macros.
  • Worksheet tab names can also be changed by way of Excel macros, as well.

Figure 1: You can double-click or right-click on a worksheet tab to rename it.

Figure 2: You can also rename a worksheet within the Visual Basic Editor.

No matter what technique you choose, bear in mind that worksheet tab names cannot exceed 31 characters. As for those infamous seven characters you can't use:

  1. \
  2. /
  3. *
  4. [
  5. ]
  6. :
  7. ?

You won't encounter an error if you type these; simply nothing will appear in the worksheet tab. Of course, there are a whole bunch of other characters that you can use in worksheet names, including but not limited to:

  • Any letter from A to Z
  • Any number from 0 to 9
  • | (pipe symbol)
  • - (dash)
  • + (plus)
  • @
  • #
  • $
  • $
  • ^
  • &
  • (
  • )
  • _ (underscore)
  • , (comma)
  • . (period)
  • !

You can type an upside down question mark if you choose: Hold down the Alt key while you type 0191 in your computer's number pad.

While we're on the topic of sheet names, the one word you can't use by itself as a sheet name is the word History. If you try, you'll encounter the obtuse prompt that informs you that “History is a reserved name.” At some point in the past, the development team at Microsoft chose the word History as the name of a hidden worksheet used in conjunction with the Track Changes feature in Excel, as well as the Shared Workbook command. Because they could have named a sheet anything they wanted, why not take advantage of those characters that they won't let us use? If I were one of the programmers working on Excel, I'd have the last laugh and name that tab “[\*:/]?” instead of making legions of Excel users say “@^#$*!” when they can't use the word History as a sheet name.

About the author:
David H. Ringstrom, CPA, heads up Accounting Advisors Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, teaches webcasts for CPE Link, and writes freelance articles on Excel for AccountingWEB, Going Concern,

About David Ringstrom, CPA

David Ringstrom

David H. Ringstrom, CPA, is an author and nationally recognized instructor who teaches scores of webinars each year. His Excel courses are based on over 25 years of consulting and teaching experience. His mantra is “Either you work Excel, or it works you.” David offers spreadsheet and database consulting services nationwide.


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By Stelios Tserkezis
Jun 26th 2015 01:12

Well, they must corrected the History problem. Excel 2010!!

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