New error debate: separators in first name

+18 votes

I am preparing new error, that would find separators in first name. We have to decide what is allowed separator for first name.

  • I did review the data and . (dot) could be allowed, but it is not needed. One letter initials don't need a dot, abbreviated names are not allowed, only in prefix it is needed but not necessary.
  • Another allowed character could be ' (single quote) as it looks like part of some names O'Neal, O'Connel
  • Another allowed character might be - (dash). I dont know if Alfred-Eugene is same as Alfred Eugene.

In all other characters i see no importance.

You can see report of all distinct use of separators here:

I would point out of problem with " (double quotes). If you look at profile [Boggs-1236] it has Malinda "Linda" as a name. If you go to Edit the profile part after " disappears. I think someone should look into this.

Comments welcome.

in WikiTree Tech by Aleš Trtnik G2G6 Pilot (831k points)
retagged by Dorothy Barry

ʻ called ʻokina U+02BB is a separate letter used in several Polynesian scripts, also used in Latin transliterations of the Hebrew letter ʻáyin and the Arabic letter ʻayn as well as in the Uzbek alphabet. It is different from a single quotation mark or apostrophe.

I think that should work as well. Can you point me to a profile, where this is used? I will recheck, if it is handled correctly.
"only in prefix it is needed but not necessary."

That isn't clear - needed means same as necessary (well, to ordinary people; maybe a dictionary might make a small distinction).

I'm not so sure dropping/removing the period from a middle initial is a good idea, because using a period is standard usage, at least here in Uncle Sam's America.  It seems like it would be more important too, when the letter is for the first name with the middle name spelled out or just letters for both.  Occasionally we also see more than 2 (first and middle) names.  A classic one I remember is Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who was often known as P. G. T. Beauregard.
Sorry, I'm not aware of a name right now, just remembered a recent G2G question about Hawaiʻi and Queen Liliʻuokalani. I did notice that there is no profile for her yet when I looked just now.

Well I am not native english speaker so i might use wrong forms. I meant Dr. Gen. Mr. are usually written with a dot. but even if it is not, everyone knows what it means. Same goes for middle initials. I looked at database and dot is used little more then 50% so it is not really necessary or a lot of them are wrong.

   James O   158
   James O.   190

   James P   425   
   James P.   545   

   John B   1.331
   John B.   1.615

   John C   1.464
   John C A   4
   John C B   5
   John C C   2
   John C F   2
   John C H   3
   John C M   2
   John C,   2 
   John C.   1.807
   John C. B.   2
   John C. F.   4
   John C. G.   2
   John C. M.   4
   John C.w.   2 


But anyway I set dot as allowed separator, so no errors are generated for that.

As a general comment, I'd like to say that what Aleš is doing here is a tremendous service.  Thank you, Aleš.

There seems to be some worry about things being flagged as errors when they are in fact correct, though.  I don't see this as a problem.  If something gets flagged and you look at it and know it is correct as it stands, you can just leave it as it is.  There's no requirement to change it.

That said, Aleš has made it clear that he is working to avoid flagging things inappropriately, for which I also thank him.  That's good because it reduces the sheer size of the error lists.  But in some cases, such as two words in the first name field, some need to be corrected and others don't.  It is really the Profile Manager's call on which is which.

9 Answers

+6 votes

Hmm... Something strange is happening on that profile. It appears that the first name was entered as Malinda "Linda". I don't know why the "Linda" part doesn't show up in edit mode.

Characters like " and ( and / aren't allowed (these are illegal characters) in the First Names fields. To show Linda as a nickname for Malinda, you need to put Linda in the Other Nicknames field.

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
I removed some Gedcom clutter from that profile, mainly as a test edit to see if I would get the usual warning about the illegal characters in the name fields.

I didn't get the warning -- and the "Linda" part of the name no longer appears on the regular page display.

If you want Linda to show up as an alternate name, put Linda in the Other Nicknames field.

Why is it called "Other nicknames"?  Why not just "Nicknames"?

Does it mean first nickname should go in "Preferred Name"?

(Kind of just thinking out loud, no real need to respond.)

+6 votes
I don't think "Linda" is part of PFN

At Malinda "Linda" I would expect that
PFN = Malinda
and PN is meant to be Linda,
by Pierre Goolaerts G2G6 Mach 2 (27.1k points)

"Linda" was part of both First Name fields when the profile was created (see the edit history). After my edit, it disappeared from the current version of the profile.

When you save the profile, quoted name disappears, so be carfull.

Here are a few more profiles to play with.




Taylor-4915 this one has two lizzies Malissa "Lizzie" "Lizzie"

We may be seeing a new technical feature. In my experience, if I tried to edit a profile that had illegal characters in one of the name fields, I was unable to save my edit. (I would have to edit the name field to fix the problem, then go back and resubmit my edit.)

@ Ellen,
I experienced the same. I changed the PN and had to click in the PFN before I could save. After saving the quotes in the profile were gone.
You don't see that you are doing anything by clicking the field, but if fact you are saving a new PFN 

Just off the cuff and terribly unofficial and awfully argumentative I wonder if it really really matters having a few offbeat characters or am I being obtuse and does it mess up the search facility? (Please take this reasonably light-heartedly!)

I do gender determination and correct spelling by sampling the database and I cannot identify such cases in they have some separators  somewhere.

Here you can check what is inside first names with commas and you will see that in most cases it is garbage.

Yes I am sure you are right and I probably shouldn't be argumentative. I can see it is a serious matter but there's just a little part of me that finds it difficult to worry about commas. I'm off to bed now to dream of full stops.
That is what this project is for. To find them and show them to you. They are easy to correct.
Gilly, in my experience the software doesn't allow non-letter characters in certain data fields. Commas, slashes, parentheses, etc., can be entered when a profile is created by gedcom, but other elements of the profile can't be edited unless the illegal characters are removed.
+7 votes
As a user of American English, I'm rather attached to the dot after initials and might be confused if we stopped using it. What do others think?
by Karen Lowe G2G6 Pilot (198k points)
I agree with you. See comment above.
I"ve pretty much given up putting periods after initials.  I never do it for middle initials and remove them when they find them having made there way into my offline trees.  The US post office long ago gave up using state appreviations with periods and replaced them with 2  upper case letter appreviations.  Given that I'm almost 70 this isn't the opinion of a wippersnapper.
+4 votes
I'm getting a 511 error (unique first name (spelling)) for my father. His first name is Robert, not really unique. However, the Prefix space contains the abbreviation for his naval rank (CDR). Is that what is generating the error? Also, another profile is getting the same 511 error. The first name in that profile is Eleve. It might be the only profile on WT with that first name, but is the correct name for the individual.
by Bob Keniston G2G6 Pilot (272k points)
Robert I have also noticed a Prefix will generate an error.
Does it make any difference if you list the rank as "Cdr."?  Mixed case is usually better style anyway for abbreviation type prefixes where the name itself is in the normal mixed case with initial caps.  So, Capt., Maj., Col., Gen, Sgt, Pvt. etc. are best for narrative style text.  All caps is normal when each letter stands for a different word, or the hame itself is all caps (like in certain lists).

If "Cdr." still generates an error it's probably because he is comparing against a list of most common known prefixes and didn't have that one.
All naval officer ranks are caps only. At one time, they were mixed, but now are caps only.
In new update, this is no longer reported as an error.
"All naval ranks are caps only"?

That is not the case in UK
+7 votes
I see clear signs that many people were trying to work around deficiencies in their family tree software, either its ability to store data or to store and report data.

But, the WikiTree name model does not seem to be rich enough to store complete naming information. People have multiple nicknames. They have names in different languages and different character sets, even in different contexts. And these names may be used simultaneously or at different periods of their life or at different locations or different contexts. Other genealogy software has tried to addressed the same problem in different ways, and their users have tried to work around these deficiency in different ways.

On top of this, some users have added flag characters to names to highlight names, or to force them to the top of name lists. Also users have invented names of known but unnamed persons so they have a place to attach information about these persons.

I suggest that unusual names get flagged for manual correction by the profile manager. I am hesitant to agree with any attempt to automatically fix large categories of similar problems, unless we can be certain that all of those fixes are correct and don't introduce new errors.

A category that might be automatically fixed are names where a prefix, such as a military rank appears as a prefix to the first name, possibly enclosed in parenthesis.
by Doug Henderson G2G6 Mach 1 (10.3k points)

I agree. The question is should we clean things up or continue with workarounds.... for me its a no brainer...

I think we havn't started to speak about automatic updates but one way that I have seen on Wikipeda is that you "mark" profiles in some way that can be updated by a bot....

One way to solve the lack of fields in Wikipedia is to add templates that generates code that is machine readable ==> you can have fields for more name types, languages etc....

That sounds very good Magnus however I am mindful that on WikiTree we need to cater to the average Contributor not the seasoned Genealogist.  Computer generated errors will always generalise unless each field is restricted and tightly controlled - fact is - Genealogy doesn't lend itself to that sort of thing! (Too many variables).........been thinking since I wrote that. I suppose we are very much like a Giant Database such as we use ourselves (Legacy, Familytreemaker, Roots Magic and so on), except there are many pairs of hands at work instead of just one.

Re Gilly I dont follow you

"Genealogy often doesn't lend itself to that sort of thing!"

You have abt. 75 000 profile in Wikitree with CONT

Which is wrong coded Gedcom import it's just stupid to not clean this away using a bot or something. If the original Gedcom is still available it would be better to "reimport" the text as some structure has been lost by the import

Yes I do see that it is important to clean things up Magnus and yes finding errors is an excellent thing to do. (I was probably digressing as usual). I was really generalising the difficulty in getting however many contributors we have to conform to a particular standard when there appear to be so many variables available.

re Gilly I think its important to be specific when speaking about what to do and how....

We have a lot of things that the Project:Database_Errors has make us aware how bad the condition of the WikiTree is in some aspects....

My feeling is that as being a Wiki we still lack basic procedures/routines like

  • renaming categories ==> you have to do it by hand ==> it will never be done or slow slow slow
  • checking non working links
    • plus we have those magic Ancestry links that normally add no value - maybe a bot warning could be created.....
  • cleaning bad locations like Y, Unknown......
  • using templates to easier handle links that are changed
  • etc. etc...
Genealogy is difficult and a Worldwide Family tree add some challenges and then we should work together makes it even more challenges
Well said Magnus. Generalising isn't the best when specific solutions are required.
+2 votes
by Pierre Goolaerts G2G6 Mach 2 (27.1k points)
I know. I already talked to Chris about that, but nothing for now.
This problem is solved. Links to Wikitree are now made by UserID instead of WikitreeeID. Thanks to Chris, who promptly enabled that.
+4 votes
I think that a space in the first name field should be flagged as an error because it indicates that more than one name is in the field.  The error message could be something like "multiple first names".  This would allow a human to put the titles, middle names, nicknames, etc. into their proper fields.
by Pat D Saunders G2G6 (8.1k points)

In the Netherlands multiple first names are common, whereas the concept of "middle name" is unknown. So in Dutch profiles multiple words (names) in the first name fields are common, and "no middle name" checked too.
German is similar.  If a man is named Hans Peter, he is usually called Hans Peter by his friends and family, not Hans.  I'm not sure whether or not that should be written with a hyphen (-).
Norwegian ditto. Eg John Erik.
Multiple-word first names are common in many languages, including English.
+3 votes

Found the orphaned profile of  a lady with the name of Mary A'court Wardlaw

  I  found the marriage register entry and her middle name had no apostrophe so corrected it.

Then I looked further and found that at both baptism and burial the apostrophe was used

So now think that I was wrong to correct her name ( her surname was incorrect but for the moment I've left that)

by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
I have often found spelling errors or name differences in government documents - birth, marriage, and death registers, census records etc. and was surprised at just how many errors there are. Census records are the worse.

Some seem to be government official's faults and some are the fault of the information provider e.g. a family member.  In your example, it could be a government official who wrote the name wrong or the source of the information, who didn't include the apostrophe.

I have always found that for differences, like your example, it always pays to look for alternative sources.
+5 votes

To answer your unanswered question:

Marie-Françoise is different from Marie Françoise, ditto Jean-Paul, etc., especially in France.

Also, '-' is needed for family (last in Wikitree terminology) names in Spain. E.g Voidrot-Martinez.

HTH, Chris
by Chris Little G2G6 Mach 5 (54.8k points)
Agree. Hyphens are actual part of many legal names. It is necessary now for my children, for example, for their legal last names.

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