What language should place names be in for categories?

+14 votes
As we create more categories for places, more and more questions pop up! So this time, I'm wondering about places in non-English speaking countries.

Already, when I've created categories for places in Quebec and other French-speaking parts of Canada, I've used the French place names. So my feeling is that all place names should be in a language that is native to that place (which will, it occurs to me, often mean there are several options, like in Switzerland). Right now, most WikiTree users speak English, probably because at this time the site is only in English. But I think we should be establishing practices that will make sense as the site becomes more universal. This is a good time to think of these things, because not much has been done yet with these non-English categories, so changes are easier to make now than later.

I know this could make things a bit more difficult for English speakers, but I guess my thinking is that if you're working on Austrian genealogy, you should know that Austrians call Austria Österreich.

What are your thoughts on this?
in Policy and Style by Lianne Lavoie G2G6 Pilot (419k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
Not really much of a contribution as far as answering your question goes, but most of my German ancestors were from West Prussia (Westpreußen).  The former West Prussia is now part of Poland, so there are the old German names for towns, counties, etc., and current Polish names.

Belgium is another country that has two different language regions and its official name is Koninkrijk België (Dutch) or Royaume de Belgique (French), depending on which part of Belgium you're in.

Point is, this will be tough to solve without having multiple language versions for pages affected by these multilingual dilemmas.
Oh, I know. I've already run into challenges. :) Some of the things you mention are fairly easy to solve, though. If a city's name has changed, I recommend putting the person in the category for the original place name, and that category goes in the category with the current name.

As for Belgium with its two language regions, use Dutch for cities, etc., in the Dutch regions, and French in the French regions. So the only one that's an issue is the country name itself. Dutch has the most native speakers, so I'd probably go with that.

We definitely don't have everything figured out yet! I've been working on putting what we have here: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Location_Fields_and_Categories
One small thing on the standards page you linked; in a lot of places (all?) in the U.S., a township is a subdivision of a county.  The township can, in turn, contain multiple villages and hamlets with names of their own.  Here in New York, what's called a township elsewhere is called a town.  I lived for a couple years in a place called Village of Highland Falls, Town of Highlands, Orange County, New York.  To further confuse matters, there is no "town" called Highlands in the Town of Highlands, it's just a subdivision of the county.

More fun with place names!:

Most of my German ancestors came from West Prussia (Westpreußen).  The former West Prussia is now part of Poland.  So, for example, on some of my Prussian ancestors' pages, I'll have something like this:

Place Names

The former West Prussia (German: Westpreußen) is now part of Poland. German place names and their current Polish names:

    Zbosse = Zboże
    Flatow = Złotów (Kreis Flatow = Powiat złotowski)
    Zempelburg = Sępólno Krajeńskie
    Vandsburg = Więcbork
    Buchholz = Bukowo (now a neighborhood in the city of Szczecin)
    Wissoka = Wysoka Krajeńska
    Schlochau = Człuchów (Kreis Schlochau = Powiat człuchowski)
    Pollnitz = Polnica

A lot of those places are tiny rural villages.  I can see this running to LOTS of sub-categories.
Your definition of a township seems pretty similar to townships in parts of Canada. What I've been doing is just putting people in the township rather than the villages within them, just because they tend to be so small. But if you wanted, you could always make subcategories for the villages within the townships and put people in those.

With those name changes, it's just one subcategory for each category (the old name within the new name), so it's not really very cluttered. If there are two many subcategories of Prussia, that category could always be split up by regions or whatever (I'm not really sure how Prussia is organised).
Well, I have been dabbling a bit with categories and locations, but I'm not sure I'm creating more havoc or order!

So, following the suggestion that the native language be used, I created a Bouctouche, Nouveau-Brunswick category. Here are a few issues I encountered.

First, I forgot the '-' at first, creating a misspelled category. How can I delete that wrong category? I think I removed everything from that misspelled category, will it eventually get automatically cleaned up?

Second, Canada now has two categories for New Brunswick (New Brunswick and Nouveau-Brunswick). It would be nice if two categories could be coupled together as being equivalent.

Third, how can I go back and edit the text associated with a category once it has been created? Back when dabbling with an Acadie space I also created an Acadie category with the same text. I would like to do the same with the Bouctouche category, but I'm not sure how to go back to edit mode short of "reverse engineering" the URL.
This definitely does complicate things, when there are two or more languages. I've been using French only for Quebec places, and English only in the rest of Canada. (It helps that most of the provinces are the same in both!) I guess what would be best is to have Nouveau-Brunswick as a subcategory of New Brunswick. Then, do we put all cities in both of them? Or just the French ones, with the English ones in just the English category? This gets confusing because there are primarily English cities in New Brunswick, and primarily French ones... Thoughts?

As for editing a category, you should see an edit link in the top right of the page.

I'm not sure so much info should be duplicated in the category pages, though. The page with the full info should be in that category, and I think just an intro should be given on the category page, with a link to the free space profile. What do you think?
Whatever solution we come up with should not give the impression that one language is considered a preferred language otherwise we might risk alienating some potential users despite our good intentions. That is why I would favor a "programming" solution that would allow groups to be considered equivalent so that a sub-goup added to one would automatically show up in the other.

I agree that info shouldn't be duplicated between categories and spaces. The reason I did so for the Acadie space and category is that I haven't figured out what to do about it yet. Back when I did so, I wasn't sure yet if a place should be a category (looks like the answer is yes!) and if so, should the category replace the space, or should they co-exist? Seems like the preferred approach is to have a quick summary in the category with the details in the space. I'll give that a try with the Acadie pages.
I understand that concern, though I'm not sure I entirely agree with it, simply for practical reasons. We're not going to be able to include every possible language for every place, anyway, and pretty much every place has a language that most people speak, so it makes sense to use that one more.

As for a programming solution, I haven't done a lot with Mediawiki, so I can't be sure, but I don't know if it's even possible. You can have one category be a redirect to another, but it's discouraged because things put in the redirect category will not appear in the other.

We could put all the cities in New Brunswick into both New Brunswick and Nouveau-Brunswick, though of course that has to be maintained, because probably people will create city categories without thinking to do that. But I think it could work. And I think that for the cities, one language should be chosen. ie. English ones just have the name City, New Brunswick, and French ones just have the name City, Nouveau-Brunswick, but all of them go in both categories.
Interesting question.  The farm I grew up on in the Township of Wick was originally in the Village of Picketville.  The area is refered to as Lower Wick.  Picketville no longer exists.  Little by little the children of the 12 families who inhabited Picketville sold out the property to the State of New York.  The State used these and many other properties in the surrounding area to form the Adirondack State Park and Wild Life Preserve.  Most of the 640 acres is situated in what was once called Matildadale.  The rest in what was once called Catherineville.  Today Matildadale is known as the Town of Colton and Catherineville is Parishville.  Though the smaller portion of the farm is in Parishville taxes are paid to this town as they maintain the only access road.  The farm is addressed in Parishville and I assign Parishville to my ancestors from that area.  In order for others to locate records it seems the right thing to do.
Prussia is particularly tricky.  Prussia took over many states in succession over a certain period.  Depending on who recorded reported events such as census data or arrival in a new country - the respondent or the recorder may reference the then current geopolitical situation.  As independent regions were brought under Prussian authority - I have seen this change reflected in the sequence of census reports for the same person.

3 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

Hi Lianne,

I'm inclined to think you're right that place names should be in native languages.

This would be consistent with the discussion on places that no longer exist: http://www.wikitree.com/g2g/3412/should-place-categories-work-places-that-dont-exist-anymore

And with the style rule on names being in native languages: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Name_Fields#Use_their_conventions_instead_of_ours


by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
selected by Michele Camera
I started a new style guide page: http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Location_Fields_and_Categories

Just a draft.
I agree with Chris. I've said it before on related subjects.
If a place or country no longer exists or is now part of some other country, one could elaborate in the Biography section.

But to answer another question, I belief Categories should be to group large amounts of profiles that have a common background. Having a category for every county, township or rural area is impossible and unnecessary.
Hi Martyn. I think there's a lot of value in categorizing profiles with small towns, individual military units, narrow professions, etc. That's where a lot of the interesting connections can be made. And it doesn't preclude the larger groupings because of subcategorization. A profile goes in a town. A town goes in a county. A county goes in a state, etc. If all the profiles go in the state, the state category will get overcrowded and then every profile will need to be recategorized into counties. When the categories get overcrowded, every profile will need to be recategorized into towns. Or whatever. By using narrow categories from the start, much less editing is necessary, and the larger groupings still exist through the subcategorization.
0 votes
Hello Lianne,

     I read through everything on this question and it doesn't seem quite fully answered to me so I decided to see if I can help. I believe that if a country has an official language use that one for the place names and other categorical information. On the other hand, for countries, such as the US,  that have no official national language, figure out what is most commonly spoken by the masses (not necessarily business-wise) in the country and use that language making sure to note what other languages are commonly used there and if a different language is most common in a certain state or province use that one and the most common language. At least, that's what makes the most sense to me.


by Michael Hruska G2G6 Mach 5 (50.8k points)
+1 vote

Some of the confusion comes from the tension between Categorization and Tagging.  The tool we are using/discussing is labeled "Categories" - but it functions and is utilized with two logical and practical aspects: Tag & Category.   

I thought I would state my understanding of what I take to be current preferred usage.  Hopefully I will be quickly corrected on any mistaken aspects!   

Place-names as data in a Profile or Record (e.g. place of birth) should reflect current local usage of the place (i.e. based on national language for that locale).

Place-names as Categories (live at the page level and) can be used in at least two ways and we should appreciate these purposes:

  • Geo-Political Categories (more strictly categorical)
  • Social-Historic Categories (as Tags) 

When used as a Geo-Political index reflecting current maps of the world and division of authority Place-names as Categories should (eventually) be nested in language-mirrored hierarchies.  (Many of which are yet to be fleshed out to the level we may need to specify in the region, and many of which we still need to establish mirror Categories for whichever language you are using.)  

Social-Historic use of Place-name Categories may often function more as Tags and as such are likely to operate as alternate hierarchies or category/sub-category groupings or they may also stand alone.  We want to capture these social and historic realities with tags (calling them categories because that's what the platform calls them).  This practical tagging is not limited to historic reference to Place-names, but to whatever other informal and project specific purposes we may have in tagging/grouping Place-names (and other tags).   Tags and groupings will continue to emerge specific to various project efforts and will frequently overlap with other categories.  

Happily we are really tagging and applying multiple "categories" to many pages. 






by Michael Maranda G2G6 Mach 6 (65.8k points)

It seems to me that your understanding is exactly opposite to what the current recommendations are: from the style guide for location fields: Applied to locations, this means using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist (my emphasis).

On the other hand, categories have been set up in the local language and political context of the current situation. That means formerly Prussian or Austrian localities in today's Poland are categorized under Poland with their Polish names.

Thank you for pointing this out.   Clearly I still don't have a good understanding of the current policy and style at wikitree.  

The phrase from the style guide that you cite seems like it should be clear enough: "using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist" yet I find it rather problematic.  

As written, the policy above seems to express a principal that honors and respects how these political realities were understood and presented either by our ancestors specifically, or by their people as a cultural group at a specific moment in their history, or by the state power in control at that locality (especially as evidenced in official documents).  Individual, Culture, State.  A case can be made for honoring/respecting each of these and they are not always the same, and in the case of Culture or People - any location may have multiple names - as many towns were relevant to multiple contemporaneous ethnicities  -especially throughout Eastern European border areas and zones that were held by different powers.  (The Polish and Ukranian towns in many cases had German, Polish, Russian and other names at the same time.)   Should the style convention be more explicit on this principle and which aspect prevails, or do we leave it to the user?

My own practice has been to locate and identify the present nomenclature for a place name.  Ideally I would want a better way to also reflect the historical situation that prevailed at the events in question.  Perhaps I am just coming at it wrong.

I'm in the position that most of my imported data is based on current official naming convention in the language of the nation they are in.  This is perhaps a side effect of software I was using (and still use), but it made some sense to me to do it this way even though in certain respects it felt problematic.


I do still maintain that the label of Category rather than Tag is part of the confusion here.





I am in the same situation with the bulk of my ancestry being from Bohemia. I am going with the historic names, as an example Rudolfstadt, Königreich Böhmen, Heiliges Römisches Reich (before 1806) instead of the current Rudolfov, Česká republika, because the city was majority German until the very end of the 19th century, and church book entries starting in the middle of the 19th century were kept bilingual, German for German speakers, Czech for Czech speakers, and censuses in the latter part of the 19th century list the primary language spoken by the families, and, after all, the Czech Republic did not exist before 1993. It just does not sound right that somebody in 1615 was born in the Czech Republic.
What I try to do is use the name as it was at their dates of birth/death, and other events, in the data section, then explain about the contemporary place names in the bio section.

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