How to change your Wi-Fi network name and password

Over Christmas and the new year, I visited half a dozen friends and family members. And every time I arrived at a new host's house, I had to ask: "What's your Wi-Fi network name and password?"

Their answers sounded something like this: "Hang on. It's written on a piece of paper somewhere. I'll find it."

"I think it's called Linksys..." (Me: "Which Linksys? I see six in range…")

"The password is k, j, h, seven, capital M, two, then I'm not sure if that's a zero or a capital O…"

I get it. Most people buy a wireless router, set it up, and never change the default network name and password. It happens. But if updating that info has been on your to-do list for some time now, let's get it done. It doesn't take long, but you have to be at home (or wherever your Wi-Fi router is) to do it.

In this article, I'll walk you through the process of how to change your network name and password, how to set up a guest network (which is optional, but really the best way to protect your home network), and finally how to pick names and passwords that are secure, memorable, and easy to share with visitors.

How to change your Wi-Fi settings

To change any of your Wi-Fi settings, you'll have to log on to your router via a web browser, and you'll have to be currently using that Wi-Fi signal, too (technically, it is possible to change them remotely, but it requires setting up remote access first; for the purposes of this article, we'll stick to the simple method).

To log on to the device's interface, you'll need your router's Internet address. Sometimes it's printed on a sticker on the underside of the router. It will look like a URL with a string of numbers, e.g: http://192.168.1.1 (that's the default for Netgear routers). If you don't see it on the device, look at the paperwork that came with the router. Did you throw that out? Third time's a charm: Search online for the default URL for the brand of your router. For example, D-Link routers use the default http://192.168.0.50.

Once you're logged in, you should see a dashboard. The buttons and menus are pretty straightforward (although every now and again, something will have a bizarre name that just doesn't make sense to non-techy people, which is frustrating).

How to set up a guest network

While it's a great idea to have a Wi-Fi network name and password that you can remember and say, it's even better to set up a special guest network. A guest network allows visitors to use your Internet without them being able to access anything else you might have on the network, like documents that you've shared between two home computers. Having a guest network simply adds another layer of security.

With most routers, your guest network name will be the same as your primary network name (the network name is also called the SSID), with the word "guest" tacked onto the end. For example, if the network name is BouncingDaisies, the guest one will be something like BouncingDaisies-guest.

Be sure to use a password for your guest network that's different from your primary network password. Guest networks sometimes require guests to enter the password not right on their Wi-Fi connectivity page, but in a web browser instead (similar to what you'll typically find with hotel or coffee shop Wi-Fi networks).

Some routers limit the number of machines that can hop onto your guest network, usually in the neighbourhood of five to ten, which is good to know if you have a large gathering of Internet-hungry people. You can change the number, but there will probably still be a ceiling for the total devices allowed. If more people need to connect, give your primary network password to your most trusted friends, and let acquaintances stick to the guest network.

The location of the guest network settings varies based on the router and its particular interface, but if you have trouble finding it, check under the tabs for either "setup" or "advanced."

How to pick a good Wi-Fi name

The way I see it, you have two options for creating a new Wi-Fi network name: Be serious, or be hilarious.

My ho-hum self has a serious name. It's simply my name, but it's a hidden network, meaning devices don't automatically see it as an option. My guests have to type it in, but it's very easy for me to tell them what it is and for them to remember it.

If you'd rather show a sense of humour, go for it, but keep it clean. I love tongue-in-cheek Wi-Fi names, like MI5-Unmarked-White-Van, or the more subtle InternetCosts£, but the latter borders on being passive-aggressive. Names like "StopStealingOurWi-Fi" and "WeCanHearYouAt3AM" are only likely to instigate retaliation from displeased neighbours, and considering the hacking skills of some amateurs, it's best to keep your funny network name inoffensive.

Remember, make the name something you can say out loud so that you can tell your visitors which network to choose without having to spout a string of random numbers.

How to choose a good Wi-Fi network password

For advice about passwords, I turned to security software specialist Neil J. Rubenking.

"There are two conflicting requirements for a good, strong password. First, it should be nearly impossible for a hacker to guess. Second, it should be easy for you to remember," Rubenking notes. And for a Wi-Fi password, add a few more requirements: You should be able to orally share it with guests and be able to type it fairly easily on a small mobile device, such as a smartphone.

Rubenking recommends using simple mnemonic techniques to create passwords. Pick a favourite poem, song, slogan, or event, and "make sure to include at least one easily remembered and relevant number, as well as some punctuation." So, for example:

  • 2DayIsTheGreatestDayI'veEverKnown
  • SteveYoung24-for-36@SuperBowl29

Those example passwords might be longer than you would ideally want for a Wi-Fi network, considering that guests logging on might have to type than on a tiny smartphone screen, but they still meet the criteria: Easy to remember, easy to say, but not easily guess-able.

For more on Wi-Fi network security, check out our article on How to secure your wireless router.