How should I show an individual who has completely changed his name?

+3 votes
I have an ancestor who was born John Searles in Maine, and around his 20's, he changed his name to William H. Hickey. His children all have the Hickey name. In a Navy document he is identified as "John Surles now known as William Hickey." If that weren't enough, Searles and Surles are interchangeably used for the same person.
WikiTree profile: William H. Hickey Hickey
in WikiTree Help by Michael Battey G2G Crew (380 points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

My personal preference is to place the full new name in the Other Nicknames field. That way, I can display the full name as a single unit.

Other WikiTreers may use the Preferred Name field. However, I don't believe that this field was intended to include surnames; not including the surname would result in a muddled display, in my opinion.

I don't think we have a specific guideline for this situation, though.

edit: Help page for Specific Rules for Individual Name Fields

When I say we don't have a specific guideline for this situation, I am referring to an option that allows a separate display of the full new name. That is my personal preference, to display the full new name as a complete and separate naming unit. I prefer to bend the rules in this situation.

Michael, one thing that I think should be addressed in the Bio, regardless of how you decide to handle this, is whether this was a legal name change (with the possible existence of legal documents to support it) or whether this was just a personal choice to start using a different name.  From what you say, it sounds as if there may be records and sources under both surnames, but there may also be other records for family members or collateral relatives that are of interest to genealogists that could become conflated with different people if you're not careful.  So just be sure to include as much relevant factual info as you can find, including the time frame for usage of each name.
There is documentation that shows both of his names together.

In FamilySearch, I saw two very clear ones:

Here, his names are shown in two lines:

Surles John

Hickey William H.

It also provides the correct birth date for John and the correct death date for William.

Here is another one, a "Navy Invalid" document, which gives the name "John Surles now known as William H. Hickey"

In the Veasey, Drew County, Arkansas Census of 1880, there is this record, wherein William was born in Maine and his parents in New Brunswick

* William Hickey, Male, 40, Married, White, Works At Saw Mill, Self, 1840, Me (Maine) , NewB (new Brunswick), NewB

3 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

An interesting question! Here's an idea. Looking forward to the other responses as the middle initial and where to put it is what feels like the big puzzle for me.

Updated per request to include Gaile Connolly's needed correction to my original post. [smk 05Oct2019 12:20 am UTC]

First Name at Birth: John

Preferred First Name: William H (putting the H here because there is no mention of <any first name> H <any last name> *other than* "William H ...") i.e. Middle initial is not "always" H.

Last Name at Birth: Searles

Current/Married Last Name: Hickey

Other Last Names: Surles

by Susan Keil G2G6 Mach 5 (58.8k points)
edited by Susan Keil
Susan, I agree with almost everything.  The exception is that Current Last Name should be Hickey and Surles should go in Other Last Names

Ah, Bingo! You are right indeed. Thank you. smiley

Susan, I would revise your selected post, so it shows the last names as agreed on, since others may not see Gaile and your comments.
Good idea, Linda. Let me know if the update made needs further edits.

Thanks Susan.smiley

+4 votes

Hi Michael,

This is an interesting situation and I am keen to see what other Wikitreers suggest....As I've had similar situations with a couple of my Ancestors. Example I had one birth name was John Dow and later became John Dow Robertson.

The way I thought might be the best for others to understand how the name changed happened, I did the following;

I started his Bio normally.... John Dow was born on ....Parents being....

* Birth name: John Dow

I continued with his Bio timeline and when the name change happened I recorded the date, how, why, when and where his name changed to John Dow Robertson...

* Name Change : John Dow Robertson

Note: John from now on identified himself as John Dow Robertson....

Hope this helps....

by Lesley Robertson G2G6 Mach 1 (14.5k points)

I ended up with "William H. (John Searls) Hickey". One has to compromise in this uncommon situation because manipulating the heading also affects the subheading but in a different way. I once got "Born (John Searls) William H. Hickey," but the subheading said "Born William H. Hickey formerly John Searls."  

Although his birth name is more "real" in certain ways, for genealogy, his descendants will look for William Hickey.

His last name at birth was not John, it was Searles.  Susan and Gaile gave you the correct way to do this.

This isn't a user "preference".  It is Wikitree policy.

Melanie, can you show me where that policy is written outside of this particular thread? This is my first time to post in G2G, and I don't know anything about seniority or who you or Susan or Gaile are in the grand scheme of WikiTree.

As I said above, there were also alternative spellings of Searles/Surles in the documentation. I don't think any standard format could handle all this.
Could one of you write what you think it should look like?


In Susan's answer she laid it out, with an adjustment by Gaile:

First Name at Birth: John

Preferred First Name: William H

Last Name at Birth: Searles

Current Last Name: Hickey

Other Last Name/s:  Surles (and any other spelling variation, separated by a comma)

I would have to go look for the help file (unless someone else wants to beat me to it).

OK ..

The Proper First Name and Last Name at Birth fields should be the names they were born with, in their native language.

The Preferred First Name and Current Last Name should be the names they used at the end of their life.

(From here.)

The Last Name At Birth (LNAB) should be whatever is that which is found on your earliest documents (according to general convention .. although there is an allowance if all the family spell their last name as Jenkins and one child is registered as Jinkins .. you use Jenkins).

I did all that, and the result was mixed.

The main profile title is John (Searles) Hickey

It looks like the person's name is John Hickey. My relatives will be looking for William H. Hickey, so they will miss out on this interesting story. I guess people who live in New Brunswick, Canada might find the title useful if they are trying to find out what became of John Searles.

The "subtitle" turned out as
"John (William H.) Hickey formerly Searles aka Surles, Searls"

It shows William H. Hickey, but the parentheses are misleading, and, again, it looks like the person's name is John Hickey.

It would be nice to have a kind of compound name field that combines two complete name fields, First one would make the name John Searles in the usual way, then make the name William H. Hickey in the usual way, and then combine them to make "William H. Hickey, formerly John Searles" or "John Searles, subsequently William H. Hickey".

I know it's not such a common thing, but transgender people tend to change their entire names (I know one personally). Also, some people who immigrate to the U.S. or other country change their entire names. When I was teaching ESL, a Thai person with a long, difficult name got it officially changed to "John Smith".

You could try putting the "William H. Hickey" in the preferred name field.


I'm pretty sure nothing is going to 100% satisfy this kind of situation, so we make the best of it that we can.

LNAB must be what is on the earliest records (whatever spelling is chosen per the help page disclaimer).  CLN should be what is on the last documentation (death/burial record/s).

Then just fiddle with the preferred name until something looks reasonable.

Also, I didn't get around to adding this earlier .. but those little ? next to name fields—they do something.

If you click on them, they will take you to the help page / relevant section of the help page.

+1 vote
I too changed my name completely at age 32 - and so I am Navarro Stream, but birth name was Michele Mariott so I am watching how this gets resolved

Both my parents changed their first name also
by Navarro Mariott G2G6 Pilot (147k points)
You can be the WikiTree poster child for accommodating complete name changes!

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