Sometimes I need to create character vectors like this one:

datanames <- c(

Notice that this is actually the Cartesian product of the character vectors joined together with a _:

c('europe', 'asia')
c('co2', 'temperature')
c('min', 'max')

I came up with this helper function:

combine <- function(..., prefix='', sep='_') {
  combine.inner <- function(lx, ...) {
    if (length(c(...)) > 0) {
      sapply(sapply(lx, function(x) paste(x, combine.inner(...), sep=sep)), c)
    } else {
  paste(prefix, combine.inner(...), sep='')

It handles arbitrary number of character vector parameters of arbitrary lengths. The prefix parameter is for convenience. It's similar to having a single element vector as the first parameter, except the common separator sep will not be applied after it.

  1. Is there an easier way that exists in R and I missed?
  2. Is there anything smelly about this code?

Your approach is an example of good R code. However, there is a base function that allows creating a cartesian product of strings, interaction. This function creates a factor, and the levels are equivalent to the cartesian product.

Furthermore, instead of paste(..., sep = "") you can use paste0(...).

If you use these functions, your code will be much shorter:

combine <- function(..., prefix = "", sep = "_") {
  paste0(prefix, levels(interaction(..., sep = sep)))


s1 <- c('europe', 'asia')
s2 <- c('co2', 'temperature')
s3 <- c('min', 'max')

# [1] "europe" "asia"  
combine(s1, s2)
# [1] "europe_co2"         "europe_temperature" "asia_co2"           "asia_temperature"  
combine(s1, s2, s3)
# [1] "europe_co2_min"         "europe_co2_max"         "europe_temperature_min"
# [4] "europe_temperature_max" "asia_co2_min"           "asia_co2_max"          
# [7] "asia_temperature_min"   "asia_temperature_max"  
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You can use expand.grid:

a <- c('europe', 'asia')
b <- c('co2', 'temperature')
c <- c('min', 'max')
expand.grid(a, b, c)


    Var1        Var2 Var3
1 europe         co2  min
2   asia         co2  min
3 europe temperature  min
4   asia temperature  min
5 europe         co2  max
6   asia         co2  max
7 europe temperature  max
8   asia temperature  max
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