How to use Names in Formulas in Excel

In this article, we will learn How to use Names in a Formula in Excel.

Scenario :

While working on Excel, you’ve must have heard about named ranges in excel. Maybe from a friend, colleague or some online tutorial. I have mentioned it many times in my articles. In this article we will learn about Named Range in Excel and will explore each and every aspect of it.

Named Ranges in Excel

Formulas -> Name Manager -> Define Name

Well, named ranges are nothing but some excel ranges that are given some meaningful name. For example if you have a cell say B1, containing everyday targets, you can name that cell as specifically “Target”. Now you can use “Target” to refer at A1 instead of writing B1.

In a nutshell, Named range is just naming of ranges.

How to name a range in Excel?

Define name manually:

To define a name to a range you can use shortcut CTRL + F3. Or you can follow these steps.

  • Go to Formula Tab
  • Locate the Defined Names section, and click Define Names. This will open the Name Manger.
  • Click on New.
  • Type the Name.
  • Select the Scope (workbook or sheet)
  • Write a comment if you want.
  • In Refers to box write the reference or select a range using the mouse.
  • Hit OK. It's done.

Now you can refer to it by just typing its name.

There are some rules to follow while creating names. Here are some.

  1. Names should not start from digits or special characters other than underscore (_) and backslash(\).
  2. Names can’t have spaces and any special characters except _ and \.
  3. Range should not be named as cell references. For example A1, B1 or AZ100 etc.
  4. You can’t name a range as “r” and “c” because they are reserved for row and columns references.
  5. Two named ranges can’t have the same name in a workbook.
  6. Same range can have multiple names.

Well most of the time you will be working with structured data tables. They will have column and rows with column headings and row headings. And most of the time these names are meaningful to the data and you’d like to name your range as these column headings. Excel provides a tool to automatically name ranges using headings. Follow these steps.

  • The ranges that you want to name as their headings
  • Press CTRL+SHIFT+F3, or Locate Defined Names section in Formula Tab, and click Create from Selection.
  • The below option box will appear. I selected Top Row only, since I want to name these range as the heading and don’t want to name rows.
  • Click OK.

Now each column is named as their heading. Whenever you type a formula, these names will be listed as options which can be accessed.

When we tablise a data in excel using CTRL + T, the column heading automatically is assigned as the name of the respective column. You should explore Excel Tables and their benefits.

Well there will be times when you would like to see all available named ranges in the workbook. To see all name ranges Press CTRL+F3. Or you can go to Formula Tab > Name Manager. This will list all named ranges that are available on the workbook. You can Edit available named ranges, delete them, add new names.

One Range Multiple Names

Excel allows users to name the same range with different names. For example range A2:A10 can be named ‘Customers’ and ‘Clients’ both at same time. Both names will refer to the same range A2:A10.

But you can’t have the same names for two different ranges. This is good. This eliminates the chance of ambiguity.

Get List of Named Ranges on Sheet

So if you want to have a list of named ranges and the ranges they are covering you can use this shortcut for pasting them in place in a sheet.

  • Select a cell where you want to get a list of named ranges.
  • Press F3. This will open a paste list dialogue box.
  • Click on the paste list button.
  • The list will be pasted on selected cells and onwards.

If you double click on the named ranges name in the paste name box, they will get written as formulas in the cell. Try it.

Update Named Ranges Manually

Well when you insert a cell inside a named range it updates automatically and expands it. But if you add data at the end of the table, you’ll need to update the named range. To update Named Ranges follow these steps.

  • Press CTRL+F3 to open the name manager.
  • Click on the named range that you want to edit. Click on Edit.
  • In Refers to column type the range to which you want to expand and hit OK.

And It's done. This is manual updating of named ranges. However, we can make it dynamic by using some formulas.

Update Named Ranges Dynamically

It is wise to make your named ranges dynamic so that you don’t have to edit them whenever your data overflows the predefined range.

I have covered it in a separate article called Dynamic Named ranges. You can learn and understand the benefits of it in detail here.

Deleting Named Ranges

When you delete the sum part of the named range, it auto adjusts its range. But when you delete the whole name range vanishes from the name list. Any formula, dependent on those ranges will show #REF error or they will give incorrect output (counting functions).

For any reason, if you want to delete named ranges, just follow these steps.

  • Press CTRL+F3. Name manager will open.
  • Select Named Ranges that you want to delete.
  • Click on the Delete button or hit Delete button on keyboard.

Caution: Before you delete the named ranges make sure that no formulas are dependent on these names. If there is any, convert them to ranges first. Otherwise you’ll see #REF error.

Deleting Names with Errors

Excel provides tools to delete names that have errors only. You don’t need to identify each of them by yourself. To delete names with errors, follow these steps:

  • Open Name Manager (CTRL+F3).
  • Click on Filter drop down on right- upper corner.
  • Select “Name with Errors”
  • Select All and hit the delete button.

And they are gone. All the names with errors will be deleted from record immediately.

Named Ranges With Formulas

Best use of named ranges are explored with formulas. The Formulas get really flexible and readable with Named ranges. Let’s see how.

Easy To Write Formulas

Now let’s say you have named a range as “Items”. Now the Items list you want to count “Pencils”. With names it is easy to write this COUNTIF formula. Just write


As soon as you write the opening parenthesis of formula the list of available named ranges will appear

Without name you would write a give a range to COUNTIF function of Excel, for which you may have to look at the range first then select the range or type it in formula.

Excel Serves the Available Name Ranges.

The named ranges are shown as suggestions when you type any letter. As excel shows the list of formulas. For example if you type =u, each formula and named range will be displayed starting with u, so that you can use them easily.

Make Constants using Named Ranges

So far, we learned about naming ranges but you can actually name values too. For example if your client name is Sunder Pichai then you  can make a name “Client” and it refers to write “Sundar Pichai”. Now whenever you will write =Client in any cell it will show Sundar Pichai.

Not only text, but you can also assign numbers as constant to work with. For example, you define a target. Or the value of something that will not change.

Absolute and Relative Referencing with Named Ranges

The referencing with Named ranges in is very flexible. For example if you write the name of a named range in a relative cell to the named range, it will behave like a relative reference. See below image.

But when you use it with formulas it will behave as absolute. Well most of the time you’ll be using them with formulas, so you can say that they are by default Absolute but actually they are flexible.

But we can make them relative too.

How to make Relative Named Ranges in Excel?

Let’s say if i want to name a range “Befor” which will refer to cell left to wherever it is written. How do I do that? Follow these steps:

  •  Press CTRL+F3
  • Click on New
  • Type “Befor” in the ‘Name’ Section.
  • In ‘Refers to:’ section write address of cell in left. For example if you are in cell B1 then write “=A2” in ‘Refers to:’ section. Make sure that it does not have a $ sign.

Now wherever you will write the “Befor” in formula, it will refer to cell left to  it.

Here, I used it before in the COLUMN function. The formula returns the column number of the left cell where it is written. To my suprise, A1 shows the column number of the last column. Which means the sheet is circulare. I thought it will show an #REF error.

Give Name to Often Used Formulas?

Now this one is amazing. Many times you use the same formula again and again in a worksheet. For example you may want to check if a name is in your customer list or not. And this need may occur many times. For this you’ll write same complex formula every time.

=IF(COUNTIF(Customer,I3),"In List","Not in List")

How about, if you just type ‘=IsInCustomer’ in a cell and it will show you if the value in the left cell is in the customer list or not?

For example, I have prepared a table here. Now i just want to type “=IsInCustomer” in J5 and i would like to see if the value in I5 is in the Customer list or Not. To do so follow these steps.

  • Press CTRL+F3
  • Click on New
  • In Name write, ‘IsInCustomer”
  • In ‘Refers To’ write your formula. =IF(COUNTIF(Customer,I5),"In List","Not in List")
  • Hit the OK button.

Now wherever you type ‘IsInCustomer’, It will check the value in the left cell in the Customer list.

This stops you from repeating yourself again and again.

Apply Named Ranges to Formulas

So many times, we define names to our ranges after we have already written formulas based on ranges. For example I have Total Price as Cells =E2*F2. How can we change it to Units*Unit_Cost.

  • Select the formulas.
  • Go to the formula tab. Click on Define Name drop down.
  • Click on Apply Names.
  • List of all named ranges will appear. Choose the right names and hit ok.

And the names are now applied. You can see it in the formula bar.

Easy to Read Formulas with Named Ranges

As you’ve seen that named ranges make it easy to read the formulas. If I write =COUNTIF(“A2:A100”,B2), no one will understand what I am trying to count, until they see the data or someone explains it to them.

But if I write =COUNTIF(region,’east’), most users will immediately get it that we are counting occurrences of ‘east’ in the region named range.

Portable Formulas

Named ranges make it very easy to copy and paste formulas without worrying about changing references. And you can take one formula from one workbook to another and it will work fine until and unless the destination workbook has the same name.

For example if you have a Formula =COUNTIF(region,east) in the Distribution Table and you have another workbook say customers that also has a named range “Region”. Now if you copy this formula directly anywhere on that workbook it will show you correct information. The structure of data will not matter. It doesn’t matter where the hell is that column in your workbook. This will work correctly.

In the above image I have used the exact same formula in two different files to count the number or east occuring in the region list. Now they are in different columns but since both of them are named as regions it will work perfectly.

Navigate Easily in Workbook

It gets easier to navigate in a workbook with named ranges. You just need to type the name of the name in the name box. Excel will take you to the range, doesn’t matter where you are in the workbook. Given that named range is of Workbook scope.

For example, if you are on  sheet10 and you want to get a customer list, and you don’t know on which sheet it is. Just go to name box and type ‘customer’. You’ll be directed to the named range in fraction of a second.

It will reduce the effort of remembering the ranges.

Navigate Using Hyperlinks with Named Range

When your sheet is large and you often go from one point to another, you like to use hyperlinks to navigate easily. Well Named Ranges can work perfectly with Hyperlinks. To add hyperlinks using named ranges follow these steps.

  • Choose a cell where you want hyperlink
  • Press CTRL+K or go to Insert Tab> HyperLink to open the Insert Hyperlink dialogue box.
  • Click on Place in this Document.
  • Scroll Down to see available Named Ranges under Defined Names
  • Select the Named Range to insert a hyperlink to that range.

And it's done. You have your hyperlink to your chosen named range. Using this you can create an index of named ranges that you can see and click to navigate to them directly. This will make your workbook really user friendly.

Named Range and Data Validation

Named ranges and Data Validation is kind of made for each other. Named ranges make data validation highly customisable. It gets a lot easier to add a validation from a list using named range. Let us see how..

  • Go to Data tab
  • Click on Data Validation
  • Select List in ‘Allow:’ section
  • In ‘Source:’ section, type “=Customer” (write whichever named range you have)
  • Hit OK

Now this cell will have names of customers who are part of the Customer named range. Easy, isn’t it.

Dependent or Cascading Data Validation with Named Ranges

Now what if you want a cascading or dependent data validation. For example, if you want a drop down list that has categories, Fruits and Vegetables. Now if you choose fruits then another dropdown should show only fruits option and if you choose Vegetable then only vegetables.

This can be easily achieved by using Named ranges. Learn how.

Hope this article about How to use Names in a Formula in Excel is explanatory. Find more articles on naming ranges and related Excel formulas here. If you liked our blogs, share it with your friends on Facebook. And also you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We would love to hear from you, do let us know how we can improve, complement or innovate our work and make it better for you. Write to us at

Related Articles :

The Name Box in Excel : Excel Name Box is nothing but a small display area on top left of excel sheet that shows the name of active cell or ranges in excel. You can rename a cell or array for references.

How to Get Sheet name of worksheet in Excel : CELL Function in Excel gets you the information regarding any worksheet like col, contents, filename, ..etc. Learn how to get the sheet name using the CELL function here.

How To Get Sequential Row Number in Excel : Sometimes we need to get a sequential row number in a table, it can be for a serial number or anything else. In this article, we will learn how to number rows in excel from the start of data.

Increment a number in a text string in excel : If you have a large list of items and you need to increase the last number of the text of the old text in excel, you will need help from the two TEXT and RIGHT functions.

Popular Articles :

How to use the IF Function in Excel : The IF statement in Excel checks the condition and returns a specific value if the condition is TRUE or returns another specific value if FALSE.

How to use the VLOOKUP Function in Excel : This is one of the most used and popular functions of excel that is used to lookup value from different ranges and sheets.

How to use the SUMIF Function in Excel : This is another dashboard essential function. This helps you sum up values on specific conditions.

How to use the COUNTIF Function in Excel : Count values with conditions using this amazing function. You don't need to filter your data to count specific values. Countif function is essential to prepare your dashboard.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Terms and Conditions of use

The applications/code on this site are distributed as is and without warranties or liability. In no event shall the owner of the copyrights, or the authors of the applications/code be liable for any loss of profit, any problems or any damage resulting from the use or evaluation of the applications/code.