Can we find a better designation for LNAB?

+8 votes

I received a notification that some one just responded to I G2G discussion I was involved in last year.  As I re-read the discussion, I was reminded of many previous discussion about the designation LNAB (Last Name at Birth).  Some people take serious exception to this because of the underlining assumptions being made.  We are assuming that

  • Such information is knowable
  • Such information is culturally significant
  • That which would be most apprropiate in a single family tree.

To set up a massive data base project one needs some structure.  The developers of WikiTree decided on ones last name as the most appropriate. So LNAB was born.  It rewally is "The name on which we decided to built our data base.  So let us call it the Data Base Name (DBN) and in many cases it would be the LNAB.  To illustrate one of the problems let us look at the story of Cow Tom.  Tom was a slave to the Muskogee leader Yargee of the Upper Creeks, in Alabama.  Because he tended cows, he was eventually called Cow Tom.  His mother is reported to be Scilla. In later life he became a leader of the Creeks in Indian Teritory and a signature on treaties with the US Government.  I would consider him notable and should be profiled on WikiTree.

So what should be his last name at birth?  He was given the name Tom at birth  Bu this was just a name every one called him.  Certainly not a last name.  He was a slave owned by Yargee, bu eventually bought his freedom and became a tribal chief himself.  As a young man he got the nickname Cow so as to avoid confusion with another Tom on the farm.  As an adult he was known as Cow Tom and for our database issues at WikiTree I would use Tom as his BDN (LNAB) and Cow as his first name.  I believe his progeny as they assimilated into a European society were given the last name Tom.

It has been suggested that we use ASN (Adopted Surname) instead of LNAB.  This, to me, seems limiting to be used in general.

in The Tree House by Norm Lindquist G2G6 Mach 7 (76.0k points)

6 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer
Calling it a surname (the intended meaning) instead of a "last name" (synonymous with the intended meaning in certain limited cultural contexts) would solve part of the problem, but as Gaile said, it would be akin to a Band-Aid on an artery.

The problem starts with basing a profile's unique database identifier on user input. This is bad database design, because it leads to all sorts of problems when that user input turns out to be wrong. I can appreciate wanting something name-like rather than the alphanumeric soup used by other sites (such as FamilySearch), but it doesn't really work -- I can't keep track of which number goes with which ancestor, even when there are only two of them with that surname. This means that I have to look the person up by something other than the DB ID and then copy-and-paste the ID, exactly like I do with the gibberish strings on FamilySearch.

There has been a proposal to redesign the entire name field structure of the database to allow for all known variations (and then some):

I have no idea whether there are any plans to implement this idea, and if yes, how long that may take.

In the meantime, the database's name structure is definitely a major flaw of WikiTree.
by J Palotay G2G6 Mach 9 (90.8k points)
selected by Norm Lindquist
It is encouraging that deep thought is being given to this issue.  I will release my can of worms and bring them up again it it appears that little is happening.
+10 votes

Oh, Norm, you're re-opening a major can of worms!  For a long time now, everyone has been complaining about WikiTree's inability to handle the whole gamut of cultural naming conventions other than Western European/American ... and even those aren't always handled very elegantly.

The real issue is making major changes to database architecture to be able to accommodate all name elements that might possibly exist and also being able to combine the name elements to form the person's full name in a variety of ways to be consistent with the norms of different cultures.

While I can see plenty of merit to your point that LNAB might not be the best name for that field, I think considering changing it to (perhaps) a better label is like putting a Band-Aid on a ruptured artery. 

by Gaile Connolly G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Gotta agree with Gaile. To put all of those elements into one name might create a name that is unsearchable. It already is for Eurosristo profiles. I have to hunt by genealogical connections to find many of them.
+9 votes
I think this is a no-brainer. As his last name/surname is not known, or he never had a last name to begin with, why not use the obvious as his last name.

Tom Unknown - nickname Cow Tom.
by Juha Soini G2G6 Pilot (121k points)
Unknown suggests to me that there might be a last name out there to be found, but I understand Norm to be saying that Cow Tom has no last name. Do we need to be able to distinguish between these two conditions?
To me these things are being looked at too critically - that name process is what it is for Cow Tom - not the same as everyone, but best that can be done, what he used and identified him as an individual - what more do we ask of it?  I changed my name, my parents changed theirs - going back the last names for almost all my lines were changed with Americanization over time as many came from other places and wanted to fit in - I was lucky to be able to guess and figure out how these changes might have been so I found them anyhow - or I sure would not have such a big tree - it should not matter so much the whys and hows of getting a name, just that that IS the name for that individual - leave well enough alone and keep the system the way it is - humans are quirky so the names will be too - we can not fit neatly into a database that really wants numbers - and that is just the facts

One way to distinguish between unknown and unexistant last names would be to have a choice of "No last name" like we have on middle names.

To me, an unknown last name suggests that we don't know what last name he/she had or if they had a last name at all. Distinguishing between the two would easily be done in the biography.

Still, I see the problem @ early historic figures known only by the first name and a nick name like Attila the Hun. His LNAB is not the Hun. It is something that historicans have added to his name as an explanatory nick name. As the Huns did not write, we don't know if he ever had a last name. We don't even know if Attila was the first name he was born with or if in fact Attila was his last name.

Here in Finland last names became common among peasants just about 150 years ago, and we used patronymics to distinguish between individuals. If we in that case don't know the father or if they ever had a last name, what does Unknown as LNAB stand for?

Edit: Typo

This was discussed a long time ago.  It was decided to use Unknown for enslaved individuals who had no last name.

You may not like or agree with that decision, but that's what was decided.
+10 votes

No matter what it's just applying a different label to a major flaw in a population database. Whatever you want to call it it does not change that our "Last" name comes first for our East Asian and Hungarian fellow human beings and we are seemingly unable to address that flaw. As long as we have to live with 澤東毛  (Zedong Mao)  and Imre Nagy instead of 毛澤東  and Nagy Imre does it really matter what we call the parts of a name?

by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (614k points)
The problem arises when you start to invent last names for individuals who didn't have them.
+5 votes

I just made a suggested change on the WikiTree Tech page: 

by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (655k points)
and it's an absolutely brilliant suggestion!
+5 votes
I think LNAB rings well, it is easy to say and as an acronym it is right up there, a 9 or a 10.  Say compared to "FAG" for Find A Grave which I give a rating of about 1 or 2.

I believe that there are already mechanisms in place to set up a LNAB based on Native American tribal names or assumed names no?  I had read here, on G2G, that some tribes, that only used first names, are using the tribe name as the LNAB for the whole tribe.
by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
edited by SJ Baty

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