Could anyone explain the '''initial intention''' of the "Proper First Name" and "Middle Name" fields?

+8 votes

I recently commented on a G2G-feed Explained here: Names and Name Fields for Dutch Profiles !!

Apparently the Dutch do not understand the concept of a middle name [though they often have more than one names], which is why they have the rule to place all the names in the Proper First Name field (The Dutch Roots Project then).

Now as some of the South African WikiTreers are also members of the Dutch Roots Project, and we follow similar spelling conventions, this causes confusion because the Afrikaans speaking South Africans have a long tradition of having mutiple middle names. Our unspoken rule was to move all the other names with the exception of the First Name (as is spelled on the baptism record) to the Middle Name field. See this example: Stephanus Johannes Paulus (Paul) "Oom Paul" Kruger

This has the upside that on searching for duplicates using first name in combination with a surname [lnab] (and not on LNAB only), one gets less hits and therefore more accuracy. The reason - when the first name field has more than one names in it, the results will also include the identical name even if it has second, third or fourth position. I just edited the attached profile [see the changes tab] and would want to be very sure that this is the correct way to go [we have been doing tens of thousands of profiles this way ...].

My questions:

* What is exactly meant with "Proper" [name] - First name or Full name (in other words ''all the names''?) and what was the original intention for naming this field as this ...

* What is exactly meant with ''Middle'' [name] - is this only an US convention or can we South Africans also use it to "park" all our middle names? (as is confirmed by the leader of the Dutch Roots Project - the example of Stephanus Johannes Paulus (Paul) "Oom Paul" Kruger is fine according to the South African convention) and what was the original intention for naming this field as this ...

* When is it exactly ok to use initials [middle or not]? When I recently searched for nineteenth century profiles, I came across surnames with only initials. When I wrote a message to the manager it got the following reply: I have read and in my interpretation the use of initial is not prohibited, it may rather be used for privacy protection.

I explained that only in the case of ''living'' people when even the strictest of privacy settings are not enough to garantee the required privacy [I imagine that there are case where identities need to remain "undercover" so to speak], then the use of initials are allowed. I know that there was some discussion about this some time ago.

Was this correctly answered?

in Policy and Style by Philip van der Walt G2G6 Pilot (160k points)
edited by Philip van der Walt

3 Answers

+5 votes
Hi Philip,

I'm not sure I can say more than what's on help pages.

Regarding intials:

And, of course, for first and middle names:

As you say, in the US we're accustomed to splitting first and middle names. For countries and cultures that don't, I'm not sure my original intent is relevant.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
Exactly my point ....
So the what's the problem? Just put the full name (minus the surname) into the first name field.

The (pre-1900, at least) German records are the same. My ancestor was born Johann Heinrich. Heinrich was not his middle name and in fact became his preferred name post emigration.

See my answer here - if one puts all the names into the Proper (not the First name field) when searching one gets less hits and therefore more accuracy. The reason - when the first name field has more than one names in it, the results will also include the identical name even if it has second, third or fourth position.

This a major cause of people not finding profiles on "First name" [sic!] in combination with LNAB, because only the first 100 gets shown, when there might be thouusands.

Maria Susanna Sussara
Sussara Maria Susanna
Susanna Sussara Maria
Maria Sussara Susanna
Susanna Maria Sussara
Sussara Susanna Maria


This is one of the major causes of duplication.

The other is it is clear to me (not US born but with the same German / Dutch heritage) that even if that field is called "middle" name, it is meant for all the other second and third names.

That I where I always put it. The second and third names, not in the "Proper" name field because they were not meant to be put there.

So when I search on First Name (Johann) in combination with LNAB, will result in much less results (more accurate) than in combination with both names (Johann Heinrich) in the same field ...

That is what I'm trying to make clear, it is not about semantics (which culture calls what part of the name how) but about the way searches are performed by people and search functionalities ...

+5 votes


Once again, it is not a question of "Dutch do not understand the concept of a middle name". The Dutch simply have no concept of middle name. I will change my mind if you can show me any Dutch document that mentions a middle name for a person. So the convention of the Dutch Roots Project to not use the middle name field is perfectly in line with the Dutch situation, and the Wikitree guideline "use their convention, not ours".

Dutch people can have multiple given names. In official Dutch documents (baptism registers, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, etcetera) those names are recorded.

The standards on how to use first name should be changed to allowing multiple first names, as already is the case for middle name(s). Limiting the standard to a single first name is artificial and i.m.o. another Americanism.

So I propose the text on Proper First Name to be changed to:

Proper First Name(s)

This field could also be called Formal First Name(s) or First Name(s) at Birth.

This is or are the formal given name(s) that would appear in official documents.

by Living Terink G2G6 Pilot (276k points)
I agree ... this is also in line with the SA convention if I´m not mistaken ... rests the question why do both "cultures" interpret the exact same "rule" (indication) differently?
+2 votes

I'm trying to understand what you mean exactly, so if I get this right you mean if you search for them you search with the full first names ? That's of course like searching for someone with all middle names included. 

But..when I try a search for for example Hans Hendrik Schenck (full first names) he and others pop up , so I don't understand what the problem is exactly ? 

I guess what you actually mean is the Wikitree search function isn't picking up and showing (profiles with similiar) first names if they are added to the first name field and only picking up and showing the ones where and if the first names are added to the middle name field ? 

This would mean maybe the search function needs to be adjusted if this is possible, to make sure all fields and names are included in a search ?

by Bea Wijma G2G6 Pilot (284k points)

Yes and No Bea, I'm trying to explain what happens when one includes all the names in the Proper First [again Sic!] field the way that many profiles are done ... :-)

To use my example:

On searching for Maria Susanna [in combination with a LNAB] one finds

Maria Susanna Sussara
Sussara Maria Susanna
Susanna Sussara Maria
Maria Sussara Susanna
Susanna Maria Sussara
Sussara Susanna Maria

But I want less results for more accuracy ... not more results for less accuracy ....

So I prefer to search on the one and only First [Proper] name - there can be only 1 first name, not 2 or more - in combination with a LNAB.

So if the first name is "Maria" I will search on that in combination with a LNAB.

As a librarian this is one of the first things they teach us ... "woord systemen" ... (English = "word systems") ...

"Elke zoekactie levert nul of meer doumenten op. Dit resultaat word (bruto)opbrengst genoemd. [...] De verhouding tussen de documenten die handelen over het onderwerp en de (bruto)opbrengst wordt precisie genoemd. [...] De verhouding tussen de gevonden relevante documenten en alle relevante documenten in de collectie wordt vangst(verhouding) of "recall" genoemd. [...] Generaliserend kan gezegd worden dat een vergroting van de vangst ten koste gaat van de precisie en omgekeerd."

Woordsystemen; theorie en praktijk van thesauri en trefwoordsystemen (2000) 2de Herz,.dr. onder red. van H. Magrijn ... [et al.], p. 19-20

(er zijn wel latere drukken maar deze heb ik in mijn kast staan en de essentie van het boek is niet veranderd).

I do not want to find all the names. It makes no sense. I want to be precise and find the correct relevant profiles.


Now I'm confused ...a bit, I understand you want the most accurate/precise result, now if I search for myself with all first names included I get just one result, the Hans Hendrik Schenck gave about 4, so that's pretty accurate, but if a name is more common like Jan Jansen than of course you will get endless results, which is why adding dates and places are so important, than we can get a more accurate/precise result by adding a birth year or place to the search, but if we want to prevent duplicates the more results probably means also the better we can prevent duplicates.

But I'm missing or don't understand what it has to do or what is the difference with adding names to the first or middle name field, because if I search my own profile for example, I can find myself with just my preferred and married last name and I can find myself with all or just one of my first names and LNAB. (all just one result)

The more unique the name(s), the less results one will find in any search.

When I search for my own name with Google Advanced Search in exact word combination, I get three results (GENI, GENI & WikiTree - I was hoping for more results than this - not knowing wether I should be happy with this but at least my privacy seem to be on the surface somewhat protected -  but I am trying to make a convincing point here). If I search generally in the top field that searches on all words I have 4.680.000 results.

If I search for the same in WikiTree, on Philip Johan van der Walt, I find 2 results: my own profile but also Philip A. van der Walt

Now let's try an "older" name: Philippus Johannes van der Walt (Philip Johan being more modern and recent variation as things go): I get 12 matches. Still - it is manageable.

Let's try some very general name - the name the president of ZAR: Johannes Stephanus Paulus Kruger:

There are more than 100 results: Search Results: Only the first 100 from a total of 373 are displayed below. You may be able to see others by searching again with narrower criteria. Click on a name to see the person's profile. Note that if the profile is privacy-protected you will need to be on the Trusted List to see all the details. Click here to show merging and matching options.

This is what I mean. If you open the edit mode you'll see I put only the first name as Johannes and the rest as middle names, believing that this would help the precision. Turned out I was wrong.

Any which way we are screwed. So how can we ask people to look for existing profiles before creating new ones if they find only find the first 100 results of 373?

That is why I always advise to search only on LNAB and then sort on date of birth [oldest on top, dense version] and try and puzzle from there on ...

But searching only on a LNAB can lead to many duplicates as well, try for example a search for van Oranje Nassau  this gives 0 results ...while the whole family is present we really should have something like a name index somewhere as you suggested before , that's going to help prevent duplicates and is much easier for all members new or old I think ? 

But there is also a hyphen missing in your search between Oranje and Nassau - you did the following search: VAN_ORANJE_NASSAU

Try VAN_ORANJE-NASSAU - you'll find the whole House of Nassau ...

On viewing I do see one mistake in the LNAB of Juliana (VAN_ORANJE-_NASSAU).
But I agree - in time when we have a decent protected "frame" of familial LNsAB (in our project at least), an index would be the next step. Then there would have to be no possibility of creating duplicates either manually of by GEDCOM, because there would be no need to. Only the possibility of enriching in a curative sense of the word, with new information by everyone that is certified to add.

Many new members will search for just van Oranje Nassau or van Oranje or something like that I assume, because it's not always clear how it has to be written, so people search for names, how they think it is written or how they are used to name them, but I was thinking some more about this, in fact the search for profiles named according the Euroaristo 'convention' is quite similar as how we have to search for persons in the Dutch Archives eeh. In the Dutch archives we also only search for people without the prefixes.

And yes an index is something we should really have or maybe the or a link to the Wikitree name index should be added to one or more of the help pages where we mention people have to search for families first ?

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