Alternative to the “Question Mark” for File Names on Windows

Some time ago I decided I needed a question mark character for use in file names.

Searching for tutorials, I found some that suggested changing fonts to make another character appear like the question mark. I found this to be too much trouble, as it would have to be replicated in multiple computers to work on a networked environment for it to be seen correctly. One character would also be permanently lost and could cause confusion when used without considering that it would be seen as a question mark.

While reading the Wikipedia “question mark” article, I found that Unicode has support for question marks from some less popular languages. Among the ones that I saw, the Ethiopic was the most pleasing to my eyes: ፧ (looks like vertical ellipses).

As Windows has native Unicode support, I tried that mark on my files and confirmed it displays correctly and that programs with Unicode support don’t complain about it.

To make it easier to use and not have to copy-paste it or type {ALT+”HEXCODE”}, I included an auto-substitution definition on one of my AutoHotkey scripts that is already always running. That makes possible to write “mqm” and get a ፧ instead. “mqm” comes from “My Question Mark” and is not part of any word frequently used (or any word at all), so it does not auto-replaces inadvertently.

This works for me, on my systems. I don’t remember sending files with ፧ on them to someone, so I don’t know how people react to it on first encounter, but I guess it should be pretty obvious to understand the intent of it in a file name like “Are Creative Commons Licenses Even Enforceable፧” or “Are your backup systems secure፧”.

If you too have been bothered by the impossibility of using a question mark to name files on Windows, you are welcome to try this solution. You can choose your own question mark from the ones available on the Unicode code page if you don’t like the one I choose.

What do you think about this solution፧ If you have a better alternative, please share it on the comments section.

Licenses and Credits

Cover image is on public domain and was obtained here.

CC0 1.0 To the extent possible under law, Anderson N. Nunes has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Alternative to the “Question Mark” for File Names on Windows.

3 Responses

  1. Gabriel Moises says:

    I have been using UNICODE Chr(577) = Ɂ instead of the not allowed question mark = ?
    I find it close enough and different enough

  2. E. Maher says:

    Hello, for many years, I’ve looked into alternative question mark characters as placeholders in the ISO 8601-prefixed filenames of scanned (genealogical) photos for which I don’t know the exact dates:

    ¿¿ (inverted), for example, 1986-12-¿¿
    ⁇ (double), for example, 1986-12-⁇
    ?? (full width), for example, 1986-12-??
    ﹖﹖(small), for example, 1986-12-﹖﹖
    ؟؟ (Arabic), for example, ؟؟-12-1986
    ⸮⸮ (reverse), for example, 1986-12-⸮⸮

    What I found is that:
    – Most of them display fine in Windows Explorer. The reverse question mark is an exception, appearing as a black square or rectangle.
    – All of them display fine in cloud storage such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox.
    – All of them produce an error message in ExifTool (command line). The error is “No matching files”.
    – Most of them produce an error message in ExifToolGUI, “List index out of bounds”. The one exception that I’ve found (so far) is the inverted question mark (Unicode character 00BF, typically used as the opening question mark in Spanish). I’m puzzled why it works in ExifToolGUI, but not in barebones ExifTool on which the GUI is based.

    The Arabic question mark is spooky. When you type that character and try to move the cursor, it moves opposite the direction that you move the arrow key and easily corrupts what you’re trying to type. I guess it has something to do with Arabic text reading from right to left.

    The inverted question mark, ¿, is not the most aesthetically pleasing alternative question mark character in my opinion (I really would have preferred to use the double or the full width question marks), but it is my reluctant solution for its near-universal compatiblity, other than not working with command-line ExifTool.

    Sometimes inverted question mark hassles you in ExifToolGUI with the minor error “Warning: FileName encoding not specified” as described here:
    http://u88.n24.queensu.ca/exiftool/forum/index.php/topic,9753.msg50643.html#msg50643

    Regards,
    E. M.

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