Nuns names, again.

+13 votes

I know this is a perennial question but I'm going to ask again. What is best practice  when naming nuns ?  Here's my recent problem.

Mary (surname redacted) , became a nun and was given the religious name of  Sister Mary Peter.

Using the guide lines for name fields from  I used the nickname field for her religious title. (though she was probably gentry, and born in the early modern period rather than medieval )  I entered her names as.

  First Name at birth  Mary, Surname  ( both as at baptism)  Nickname Sister Mary Peter. .

It  gives  a satisfactory result for a religious title (see for another nun where this format is used).  She lived quietly like this for ages without any data error reported. In fact her sister also became a nun and  still has this format in the data fields without any error being reported . 

Recently, a member changed  it to:

 Prefix Sister,  First name Mary, Preferred name Peter  (surname) 

This displays as Sister Peter (surname) but she was never called that in her life.

I reverted the change. citing the Euro aristo use of the nickname field in the change box.

The member has now changed it again.This time to 

Prefix Sister, First Name  Mary. Middle Name Peter. Surname (original)

The name now reads Sister Mary Peter (surname)  This  is  even more anachronistic (since there were almost no middle names in England  when this lady was born)

I don't want to get into a further ding dong but I would like her name to read appropriately. Without a definitive answer, it's hard to know what to say to her.

(profile and surname not cited deliberately)

changed link for naming fields

in Policy and Style by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (397k points)
edited by Helen Ford
Perhaps if you ask this other member why they are editing (and reverting edits you, the Profile Manager, have made) the profile in such away, it may cast light on things?
You give good advice Melanie. ( trouble is I have ideas though may be completely mistaken)
coming late to this question, and my experience with these is not in England, but here in Québec and earlier times like New France, the prefix field would get ''Soeur'' or ''Mère'' (depending on rank within the order, Mère being a mother superior), her given named and preferred name do not change, her last name at birth is what it is, current last name is the religious name she used.  Most of them have a name like ''du Saint-Sacrement'' or ''de Sainte-Clotilde'', ie the religious names are of saints or holy things.
Perhaps I should use Soeur not sister. Interesting dilemma though not the main difficulty. They were amongst a large  set of daughters of recusant (Catholic), English women who became in nuns in exile in  Belgium, all the records I've used are published  transcripts. Are they also translations?
Since they were English to start with, would maintain the English version of the term.  Not knowing your source, don't know if they were translated or not.

4 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

I use the birth names in the fields then use "Sister Mary Catherine" in the other nicknames field. This seems to work well.

You might want to contact the member who edited the profile to explain why it was this way, so that they might curtail this editing practice.

by Natalie Trott G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
selected by Helen Ford
That is exactly what I've found and did.
+6 votes
Unfortunately the link above to the name fields isn't working from here although I was able to find it.

I would put Sister as a prefix : Mary as First Name: XXXX as Surname and put Sister Mary Peter as Preferred Name rather than nickname as that is the name she was known by for her adult life.

I would also send the person making these changes a private message asking what is his/her reason for making the changes, based on the information above.  Hopefully that will resolve the changes being made.   (I would suggest you point out the link if you can get it to work)

My ancestor was a nun, and I was very surprised when doing her profile that in the 1940 US census all the nuns in the convent were listed by their birth names and not their religious names - but in the end it made sense.

Good Luck
by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (772k points)
Bit worried about putting Sister in the prefix as she was never Sr Mary ____. (although I'll be honest, I think at the very beginning I put it there but at the time, it gave it a data error)  The problem of sister in the prefix field  would be more acute with her sister. She also went with her into exile in a Belgian  nunnery and  took the veil.She later returned to England where she reverted to her birth name, writing a will with that name.
When you get the DBE for "Sr" or "Sister" in the prefix field, mark it false error with the reason "She was a nun".
+6 votes
In hopes that I'm understanding your question (as well as my lack of knowledge), this is a unique question.

I had provided a link that may hopefully be helpful for what you are looking for on the topic of "Nuns" within a "Catholic Encyclopedia" (one of a handful online).

I wish you the best of luck! :-)

~Brian Kerr
by Living Kerr G2G6 Pilot (312k points)
Hi Brian, thank you for your answer. I'm really looking to find an accepted way to enter their names on wikitree. It's rather a labyrinth sometimes!
The reason I had provided that link was only because the title that Nuns were given did change some (historically) over time.

The Abbreviated titles are typically placed as a prefix (those of Sister, Father, Monsenior, etc...). I'm not an expert regarding this specific field, but I do have a basic knowledge in this.

~Brian Kerr
+2 votes
If you think it might help, I will ask my cousin who is a nun for an opinion on actual names used, birth name vs religious name
by M Ross G2G6 Pilot (438k points)

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