How to Use Column Headings in Excel

By Aaron Parson

Excel lays out spreadsheets on a grid, titling columns with letters ranging from A to Z, and then progressing into AA, AB, AC and so on. While sufficient for referring to other cells, these headings don't offer much help in terms of legibility of data. Add your own titles to columns by typing in the first row, lock the row on the screen and then add additional column features such as filters or reference names to make your spreadsheet in Excel 2013 or 2010 easier to work with and read.

Column Headings

Excel displays alphabetical headings across the top of each worksheet to indicate columns. You can't change the display name on the headings, as their purpose is to identify cell locations -- your second column is always column B. Clicking a column header selects the entire column so that you can change the style and/or formatting of all the cells in that column simultaneously. You can also refer to an entire column in functions with the notation "A:A" for column A, but in large spreadsheets or complex equations, this might cause Excel to run slowly.

Custom Column Titles

To add your own title to a column, type its name in the first row of the column. When working with charts, Excel automatically checks this row to generate chart titles and legends. Make long spreadsheets easier to follow by locking the title row on-screen: Open the "View" tab, click "Freeze Panes" and choose "Freeze Top Row." For horizontal sheets, you can also pick "Freeze First Column." Achieve the same effect in printouts by opening "Page Layout," clicking "Print Titles" and selecting the title row in the "Rows to repeat at top" field.

Filter in a Column

Excel's AutoFilter hides selected rows of data without deleting their contents. To add filters, select your title row, open "Data" and press "Filter." Turning on filters places a drop-down menu on each of your title cells. Open the menu to uncheck items to hide, and then press "OK." While hiding data, row numbers turn blue to indicate skipped rows. Clear a filter by reopening the drop-down menu and choosing "Clear Filter From (Column Title)." You can turn off the filter completely and remove drop-down menu from your title cells by clicking on "Filter" again in the Data tab to clear the highlighting.

Assign a Column Name

To assign a name to a column, select the entire column and type in the name box to the left of the formula bar. [See Reference 5.] Names serve as a shortcut for references. For example, if you name column A "Date," you could later reference the entire column by typing "=Date" rather than "=A:A".

Numerical Column Headings

By default, Excel uses the A1 reference style, which refers to columns by letters. Optionally, you can switch to the R1C1 style on the "Formulas" tab in Excel's options window. [Ref: checked in current versions. Ref mentioned below for explanation is outdated on option's location.] In this style, both rows and columns use numbers. For example, the cell usually called B3 would be R3C2, short for row three, column two. [See Reference 6.] This style helps you use formulas with relative locations -- you can write an equation such as "=R[1]+10" to add 10 to the cell one row down.