Block capitals for surnames

+5 votes

Are there particular reasons why WikiTree does not support the use of block capitals for surnames?

The use of block capitals for surnames is a common practice in genealogy research. I find it peculiar that it is not supported at WikiTree.

For one thing, it makes it more difficult to navigate trees, as it takes longer to discern different surnames.

Grateful for any responses, whether official or unofficial.

UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your comments and suggested answers. I did learn how to type with a manual typewriter, so I appreciate the explanation that computer typesetting enables more options, such as boldface and italics.

However, the practice of block capitals for surnames is still used. One example is business cards with Anglicised names, e.g. Japanese and African surnames. And sometimes the individual will write their name in surname-first name order; block capitals indicates the surname.

In France and elsewhere in Europe, the reason is to distinguish surnames from first names, e.g. Pierre MARTIN from Martin PIERRE.

In Spain, block capitals are used to denote the paternal part of the customary maternal-paternal surname, e.g. Carlos María MARTÍNEZ DE IRUJO-Tacon. (I have a Spanish lineage in my family tree.)

FWIW I acquired the practice of using block capitals for surnames from when I began my genealogical research in the 1980s, as well as its practice in the US Armed Forces. And as it is still practised in Europe, where I now live, I persist with it. But I shall conform to the WikiTree way for this purpose.

asked in WikiTree Help by Allan Leonard G2G Crew (380 points)
edited by Allan Leonard

To me, it's a matter of "use their conventions, not ours": my ancestors didn't write their surnames in allcaps to make things easier for genealogists, so rendering their name in allcaps would be a matter of imposing "our conventions" upon them.

There are plenty of other topics on which I'd like to have a few words with my ancestors. Among the things I'd say to them are:

  • Please don't keep recycling the same names every generation. It makes it really hard to keep you all straight.
  • Please check the enumerators' work when they come to the door for a census. Don't let them garble up your names. And check their handwriting, too. If the enumeration sheet looks like a doctor's prescription pad, write in your names yourself.
  • Stop it with all the Georges and Williams and Charleses, if you don't mind. More Horatios and Beauregards and Aloysiuses, please. There's nothing wrong with making your kids stand out the the records.
  • Speaking of which, stop hiding in the root cellar when census takers come around.
  • And for crying out loud, register your kids when they're born. Don't make then go through the late registration of birth process decades later when they want to get married or apply for a passport, or, worse, never registering at all. Remember, having your descendants spy on everything you do doesn't count as stalking. Technically.

register your kids when they're born. Don't make then go through the late registration of birth process decades later when they want to get married or apply for a passport, or, worse, never registering at all. Remember, having your descendants spy on everything you do doesn't count as stalking. Technically.


My 2-greats-grand Uncle was born 2 years before my 2-greats-grandfather, but was churched on the same day after grgrgrandfather was born.  (Saved me credits (which = money) in the buying, because they're on the same register page, but they're not all like that at all.)  I've a number of rellies on the paternal side of the tree where they weren't churched for years after birth.  In some cases (Aussie ones, particularly) there was no "local church", so even marriages may be put off until a preacher (didn't matter, back then, what label he wore) came riding around on "circuit".  Sometimes you would get a wedding and 4 children all churched on the same day because the last time a preacher came by was 7 years earlier.  So it wasn't always their fault, even after government registrations became a "have to" thing.

For those living within a hop, skip, and jump from a church /government registry office .. I 100% agree with you.  GO REGISTER!  (My one brother-in-law would agree, as well.  He fell afoul of being a home birth and, somehow his parents never got around to registering him.  No big deal, really, until he needed a passport or something.  Then he had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get himself a birth certificate issued retro.  This is in the modern America.)

To all our great-grands .. we're not stalkers.  Really.  We just need to know these things. 

3 Answers

+11 votes
I believe the ultimate answer is because it does not allow for variations in the capitalization of surnames and WikiTree is dedicated to being as accurate as possible with respect to the names of individuals and locations and the various naming conventions for different locales.
answered by Deb Durham G2G6 Pilot (725k points)
Alas, These are things that can also be clarified and explained in research notes.
I don’t use all capitals when I write my name, so why should it be different here.
I've been told <citation needed> that the all caps presentation of names is a way of making us each more like a company and less as an individual.  Ever since, I have stopped using all caps for people's names and only use it for companies and corporations (well, except in my private written notes where I still capitalize the surname only).
+8 votes
To add to the other answers is that we use the name as it was first used for the individual. All capitals is not how you find it in the records. It used to be convention to standardize names and that shouldn’t be done either. The leading genealogy journals don’t us all caps for the primary section on an individual. They might use them in the list of children. It is a convention that is dying away.
answered by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (261k points)

> "It is a convention that is dying away."

And the sooner, the better!

I noticed (now that I'm awake) that in 2 of the 3 journals I read, 2 of them that use all caps in the list of children also have the letters that should be lower case are slightly smaller caps. The third sometimes uses all caps and other times mixed case so I think they leave it to the author. None use all caps in the main entries for their biography section. These are 3 of the big 5 USA genealogy publications. An I certainly didn't hear to use them in the genealogy writing class I took last Summer.

I believe Herbert is correct in that it is largely a convention from typewriters.

I still use all caps for surnames - and it is not dying away, it is a convention which is still used by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, which certifies genealogists in the UK. smiley

It also helps me when certain given names are also used as surnames, such as Jane Smith (given name) or Robert JANE (surname).

But I can certainly understand why WikiTree does not use all caps.  Imagine trying to work out the structure of the name MACARTHUR? 

But I can certainly understand why WikiTree does not use all caps.  Imagine trying to work out the structure of the name MACARTHUR? 


Time was most names similar to that were rendered MacCormack, McPhee, McGrady, MacCrae, and so on .. unless the Mac names were Macdonald, Macarthur, and so on.  (which, of course, reminds me of a joke best spoken rather than written).  Almost nobody seems to do the Mc / Mac thing nowadays.

Styles change slowly over time. Even the grammar I was taught is now considered incorrect in some cases depending on the authority.

Melanie, the Mc/Mac with/without superscript gets even more complicated. Some people insist the raised letters should be underlined. My grandmother insisted that there be two dots under the c but the dots are also raised above the baseline. So, so  many variations. Then there were the ways Mc/Mac were sorted in directories.
Thanks @Ros_Haywood yours is the most sympathetic response that I have received. Perhaps because I now live in the UK, I appreciate the position of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. :-)
Ros, do they actually use all caps or do they use small caps? When the US journals use what look like all caps they are actually using small caps (everything looks like a capital except those that would be capitalized use a slightly larger. Just curious.
I have been told in my assignments for them to use all caps, not small caps.

@ Ros .. I have run into two cases (specifically two, for now, anyway) where the allcaps (or even Capital initial letter, smaller allcaps the rest) would have come in handy for NOT seeing a middle name as part of a double-barrelled surname.  (I'll use Robert again, as he was brought to G2G recently.)  My whatever cousin Robert Gordon KIRGAN, somehow, somewhen became Robert GORDON-KIRGAN.  He may have fought it, I don't know.  Some places (newspapers, for example) still rendered it as KIRGAN after the change seems to have occurred.  The other case is a not-readily-apparent-yet x-times removed cousin to my KIRGAN lot .. an Irish descended QUINTON.  Born a QUINTON, to father Michael Joseph QUINTON, he was named David Kirgan QUINTON.  Seems clear, yes?   Nope.  He somehow, by the time of his divorce, became David KIRGAN-QUINTON and so was his divorcing spouse.  (I know this because I kept running into this divorce when trying to track down an all KIRGAN one in the newspaper graveyard.)  Two clear cases where using allcaps for the surname would have solved the name merge.

How would somewhere such as Wikitree deal with allcaps in last names?  By rendering McDONALD, MacDUFFY, MACDONALD, McNASTY, MacSTOPTHIS, McITSALLNONSENSE, MacCANWEGOHOMENOW.  cheeky

OK, I've learned something. This is becoming a regional/cultural difference.

Ros, I made an assumption I shouldn't have. My apologies. There are likely other differences as well. The classes I've taken that support certification are mostly oriented around NGS (National Genealogy Society) Quarterly  writing with differences between it and NEHGS (New England Historic Genealogical Society) Register. Most of the other major journals use one or the other of those styles. I'll have to look through the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies Journal next time I'm at the Denver Public Library (they get it). I probably won't finish the CG (Certified Genealogist) but the education part has been well worth it. Hope you are enjoying your studies.

+11 votes
Welcome, Allan!

I like that WT doesn't use all cap surnames.  I think the rationale for using capitals  to make surnames stand out dates back to the days of the typewriter.  In the modern computer age, we can use different fonts, colors, boldface, italics, and underlining to emphasize names.  In the biography, we can create [[hyperlinks]] to highlight the names even more.

Standardized capitalization in the LNAB field is important to WT because it forms part of the case-sensitive WikiTree ID - Smith-8675309 and SMITH-8675309 are different profiles.
answered by Herbert Tardy G2G6 Pilot (346k points)
And remember, Mc Gruff creates a different WikiTree ID than McGruff or Mc gruff or Mcgruff.

I learned that the hard way and it took a bite out of me.

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