Can we stop using "last name" and "first name"?

+41 votes
I know the ship has probably long sailed on this question, but I'll try anyway.

In Hungarian (and Chinese, Korean, and Japanese), the family name or surname comes first. This makes field labels like "last name" rather confusing: if I mark the name as Hungarian, does that change the meaning of the label, or do the labels keep their English meanings? That is, if I mark Szent-Györgyi Albert's name as Hungarian, should Albert be his "first name at birth" or his "last name at birth"? And what about a person with two given names who mostly went by the first one? In Hungarian, the first given name ends up in the middle position, but it's definitely not a "middle name" as used in English.

The labels seem unfortunately rather well-ingrained in WikiTree usage, with acronyms (LNAB etc.) in common use, but that doesn't make them correct. Is there any hope of changing them to Surname-at-Birth, Given-Name-at-Birth, etc.?
in Policy and Style by J Palotay G2G6 Mach 6 (61.8k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
My name is Mark Stephen Elliott, were Mark and Stephen came from the forenames of my dad's father then my mother's father. The forename of my dad's father came from a surname, his middle name was from a pre US, German surname which he rejected. Yes there were Germans in the Colonies before there was a US.  Stephen came from my Slavic-German speaking mom's dad, and is more Scottish than German as a surname, though it also goes for the Steven spelling. Family line of the Anglo-Scottish Borders and Anglo-Germany.  Repetitive usage of surnames, gives way to nicknames, and addition of more names. Name sequencing, and preserved cultural format helps one to realize their genealogical lines. It is not so important in the name sequence, but it is important that the sequence stays standard with maybe a slow evolution, from a single personal name, then with locality or taking on the father's name as a surname, then addition of a surname, then insertion of a middle name. It these names are passed down the family then it helps with the genealogy. Granddad Mark (no middle name) Elliott, his was was AW (initial only because he did not care for his names), and his father SA (neither like their given names and the "A" was the same and I do not know why they past it down). Dad liked his name Loren Spencer Elliott where the Spencer was his mother's maiden name. So in this case the family name of his mother Ilah Spencer was past down.
Mark, I'm not saying we should do away with the concepts/categories. I'm just complaining about the _labels_: positional terms like "last name" are not portable, because other cultures use names in different orderings. Or did I entirely miss your point?

Maybe you should have a look at this conversation

Louis, thanks, yes, I saw that shortly after I asked my question. I figure my idea to simply re-label the fields ought to be much easier to implement, and could thus maybe (hopefully) happen sooner than the sweeping changes proposed in that thread. But if the Powers That Be are working on the sweeping changes, then by all means, continue, don't let my interim stopgap delay you....
I think when you make changes, do it once and do it proper. It allows for a more consistent environment.

5 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer
I'll add your thoughts as something to consider in our next round of profile updates.
by Abby Glann G2G6 Pilot (470k points)
selected by Logan Gavin
Thanks. Is there any information about when this "next round of profile updates" might be, and what it might encompass? I'm reluctant to spend more time entering my data into a setup that's so badly ill-suited to it.
Unfortunately, I can't. But there are several posts with a similar request that have come through recently so it has moved up in importance.
+23 votes
It would certainly make a lot more sense.
by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (257k points)
+9 votes
Just a quick vote of support for this idea.

I am all for using labels like "Surname/Family Name at Birth" and "Given Name(s) at Birth" as the core name display.

However, wouldn't we still need a mechanism to allow the correct display order?
by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (218k points)
+5 votes
I hate to play "devil's advocate" here and I DO support using "Surname" and "Given Names" but so long as the basic-language of WikiTree is English, then I think the name order on the Status Indicator part of a Profile should remain as it is.  Non-Western naming conventions can be explained in the Biography Section in whatever language is used there.  I feel certain that all or virtually all other genealogy sites and indexes here or in the Western world keep the name order the way it is currently used on WikiTree.  But why not use Surname and Given Name(s)?  The acronym LNAB is "short-hand" and probably ought not to be encouraged but, again, it is understood by 90+% of our members, so please don't "throw out the baby with the bath water".

I am bilingual in French and it's true that older documents there often put the Surname first, followed by a comma, and then the Given Names. My French-born wife tells me that in many higher-social-level families, the "usual" name (what the person was called) was often the final Given name, not the first one, as we typically use.  I think the same is true for older German historical documents too.

I agree that, as an international site, we should try to accommodate other non-Western traditions, as we do, since Profiles can be written in any language (and other alphabets, even if most of us cannot understand what is said) but the basic "Status Indicator" fields and their order on all Profiles should remain in English (since 95+% of our members understand it) with special exceptions being noted elsewhere on the Profile.
by Chet Snow G2G6 Mach 5 (53.2k points)
Why should we do everything else based on "their conventions," but not the name display?

And aren't we trying to accommodate the profiled individual's own language (if possible)? His/her name won't necessarily be in English or using the/a Western alphabet.
The ordering of names is closely linked with _language_. English, which (as you say) is the default display language of WikiTree, is a surname-last language, so naturally names displayed in English should have the surname last (or set off with a comma, or shown with some other convention used in English to identify surnames). This is actually independent of how the name would be arranged in its native language, just like how the use of Latin letters in English is independent of the alphabet used by the name's native language.

The small part of the name-entry-and-display problem that I'm trying to address here is the portability of the labels. If the label is positional, then its language is an integral part of its meaning, making it essentially untranslateable. Changing the label to a non-positional, translateable word or phrase doesn't affect other aspects of the name display equation.

Here's a proposal to fix the whole name-entry-and-display question once and for all:
I am very, very far from a computer whiz and so the discussion thread you refer to is way above my comprehension BUT I certainly acknowledge that others with better coding and such skills seem to think it could work, so why not try it - what would a sample Profile, say in Dutch or French, look like - the Status Indicators Area, I mean - I agree that the Biography etc. Section should "follow their conventions" even if it makes it incomprehensible to most 21st Century readers, not of that specific ethno-linguistic group but I still feel that the Status Indicators should be accessible in our default language - if this grid system does that and still preserves the original non-English language style and conventions, then I am all for switching.
+2 votes
Well, this was certainly an interesting subject to stumble upon. Personally I think renaming the fields might actually cause MORE problems. As it is the first name is the first name. Last name is last name, and middle name is whatever is between the 2.

Now if you change last name to surname then the places that have the surname first will ALL be displayed WRONG. Nothing states the first name is the given name and the last name is the surname.

Therefore positional based is just that. The position the name is displayed in. As soon as you give it a specific meaning it will then be the wrong order in the displayed name for many and be a real coding nightmare needing interpretation based on a selected code to signify the proper display order for that region.

I hope this makes sense that the last name doesn't always have to be the Surname or family name.
by Steven Tibbetts G2G6 Pilot (299k points)
Your comment does make sense. But wouldn't we need to reinvent the searches for surnames.

Maybe the solution is to have ʻfamily nameʻ and ʻgiven nameʻ for the fields. Would that include all language and cultural groups?
"Nothing states the first name is the given name and the last name is the surname." This is false.

The way WikiTree is set up, the "last name" absolutely MUST be the surname or family name. It's what's used to create the person's permanent identifier, it's used for sorting by family name, and it is the basis of the most basic and fundamental categorizations on WikiTree.

Similarly, WikiTree's setup absolutely requires given names in the "first name" fields. If you enter a person's surname as his "first name", no search or match algorithm on WikiTree will ever find him, everything will be displayed nonsensically, and adding relatives will become an absolute nightmare.

The positional labels fail to accurately describe the roles of the fields they're attached to. Therefore the labels should be changed.
Oh, and about "middle name" being anything between first and last: this relegates the actual given name of a surname-first name with more than two parts to the middle position. My grandfather was born Polster Gyula József. Am I to enter Gyula -- his actual name that he was known by -- as his middle name, which by U.S. law and custom is not part of a person's official name?

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