How to add emoji icons to file names in OS X

Instead of only using alphanumeric text for file names, you can also include emoticons and other Unicode symbols.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
2 min read

Emoticons have become some of the most commonly used symbols when communicating using computers and cell phones. Starting with combinations of text characters, smilies evolved into emoticons with the development of Unicode fonts that include complementary images for common smilies. For instance, applications like iMessage and iChat in OS X will make use of emoticons, automatically substituting an image of a smiling face from an emoticon font if you enter the ":)" text for a standard smile.

If there are other emoticons you often use, then you can use the system preferences to set up your own global text substitutions to quickly access them in multiple programs. Alternatively you can make use of the system's character palette to have quick access to the available emoticons and other symbols.

Emoticons in file names
Emoticons in file names can be fun ways to label your documents and folders. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

While useful for enhancing e-mails, chats, and other forms of communication, OS X also supports the use of emoticons and other symbols in file names. This offers a unique way of naming files since it allows you to characterize and search for them using images instead of only alphanumeric text.

Unfortunately the OS X Finder does not support dynamic substitution of text in file names with emoticons (ie, typing ":)" in a file name does not replace it with the appropriate emoticon like other applications), so in order to add them to file names you will have to use the character palette.

  1. Enable the Character Viewer and open it.
  2. Locate an emoticon (in the Emoji section) or other symbol you would like to use.
  3. Select the file or folder in the Finder and press Enter to edit its name.
  4. Double-click the symbol to use in the Character Viewer, which should be entered in the name at the point of the cursor.

Once finished, you can either use the same palette-based approach to name other files, or manually copy the emoticon from one file name to another.

Emoticons in the OS X Character Viewer panel
The OS X Character Viewer contains numerous Unicode symbols that can be used, including a full gamut of emoticons. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

The system not only displays the emoticons in the file name, but also allows you to manage them with system services like Spotlight searching. After you have added a symbol to the name of a file, you can perform a Spotlight search for that symbol to quickly reveal it; however, for the search you will need to use the character palette to enter the appropriate symbol.

While fun, this approach is a bit more cumbersome than managing file names with pure text; however, it does provide a unique naming option that might be useful for some people.

Unfortunately since the emoticon fonts are Unicode-based, they will not work in some services that do not support Unicode. If you frequently use the OS X Terminal, then you will find that adding symbols to file names will have them appear as question marks in the Terminal, making them difficult to identify and manage.

Thanks to MacFixIt reader Simon for writing in about this.