names {base}R Documentation

The Names of an Object


Functions to get or set the names of an object.


names(x) <- value



an R object.


a character vector of up to the same length as x, or NULL.


names is a generic accessor function, and names<- is a generic replacement function. The default methods get and set the "names" attribute of a vector (including a list) or pairlist.

For an environment env, names(env) gives the names of the corresponding list, i.e., names(as.list(env, all.names = TRUE)) which are also given by ls(env, all.names = TRUE, sorted = FALSE). If the environment is used as a hash table, names(env) are its “keys”.

If value is shorter than x, it is extended by character NAs to the length of x.

It is possible to update just part of the names attribute via the general rules: see the examples. This works because the expression there is evaluated as z <- "names<-"(z, "[<-"(names(z), 3, "c2")).

The name "" is special: it is used to indicate that there is no name associated with an element of a (atomic or generic) vector. Subscripting by "" will match nothing (not even elements which have no name).

A name can be character NA, but such a name will never be matched and is likely to lead to confusion.

Both are primitive functions.


For names, NULL or a character vector of the same length as x. (NULL is given if the object has no names, including for objects of types which cannot have names.) For an environment, the length is the number of objects in the environment but the order of the names is arbitrary.

For names<-, the updated object. (Note that the value of names(x) <- value is that of the assignment, value, not the return value from the left-hand side.)


For vectors, the names are one of the attributes with restrictions on the possible values. For pairlists, the names are the tags and converted to and from a character vector.

For a one-dimensional array the names attribute really is dimnames[[1]].

Formally classed aka “S4” objects typically have slotNames() (and no names()).


Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988) The New S Language. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole.

See Also

slotNames, dimnames.


# print the names attribute of the islands data set

# remove the names attribute
names(islands) <- NULL
rm(islands) # remove the copy made

z <- list(a = 1, b = "c", c = 1:3)
# change just the name of the third element.
names(z)[3] <- "c2"

z <- 1:3
## assign just one name
names(z)[2] <- "b"

[Package base version 3.3.0 Index]