Categories: WikiTree Help | Profile Editing Help | Styles and Standards
Here are guidelines for using WikiTree's name fields.
This page only includes style rules that have been agreed-upon by the community for all of WikiTree. For pre-1700 profiles and some others you also need to consult the more particular rules developed by the project that covers the specific time period and location. See the Name Field Guidelines directory.
Please don't be intimidated by these rules. They are the ideals. No profile is ever perfect and complete. All name fields are easy to edit, with one exception: the Last Name at Birth (LNAB). If you are unsure of the correct LNAB for a profile, please post a question on the G2G forum so others can assist.
General Naming Conventions
Use their conventions instead of ours
We aim to use the names that people themselves would have known and that would have been recognized in their own time and place.
This is true for the "official name fields", Proper First Name and Last Name at Birth, and it's also true for the "preferred name fields", Preferred First Name and Current Last Name. These are meant to be the names they would prefer, not the names we prefer to call them.
At first this may seem overly complicated. We know what we would prefer but often cannot know what they would prefer. However, creating a single worldwide family tree requires a universal standard. "We" depends on who is speaking and the language they're speaking in. Therefore, it cannot be universal.
For example, English-speaking WikiTree users know William the Conqueror. But French-speakers know Guillaume le Conquérant. Even if 90% of current WikiTree users speak English, William should be Guillaume in our database because he himself spoke French. We can all share one profile even though we don't share one language.
This applies for names with accented characters, and even for languages with non-Latin alphabets. WikiTree can accept most character sets, such as Cyrillic, Chinese, and Arabic.
Note that English translations can go in the less formal fields, such as Nicknames and Other Last Names. And biographies can be written in multiple languages.
See the related page on Location Fields.
When conventions changed during a person's lifetime
It's common for a person's name to change, especially with immigrants.
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.
It's common with earlier ancestors that the spelling of a name was not standardized.
Nevertheless, if there are any contemporary written documents, the spelling from those documents should be used. In particular, the spelling that appears in a birth record should be used for the Last Name at Birth unless there are other documents from at or near the time of birth that inform us about a more common or correct spelling.
The spelling used by descendants is not relevant unless there are no contemporary written documents.
Special rules for required fields
Our system requires the basic first name and last name fields. They cannot be blank. This necessitates a few special case rules.
- If the first name or last name is unknown, use Unknown in the field. Do not use Not Sure, NN, Wife of X, Adopted, etc. Use the English word Unknown regardless of a person's native language.
- If the first name or last name is uncertain, use the name it's suspected to be and mark the field as "uncertain." Do not use "Possibly X" or "Might be Y", etc.
- If a name is being omitted for extra privacy, use Anonymous or an initial. Do not use Living, Private, etc. See Names for Living People below.
- In rare cases where a modern person has no Current Last Name, like Madonna, use No Last Name.
- If last names weren't used in the person's time, one needs to be created. Most such profiles will come under a project, such as the European Aristocrats project (see Name Fields for European Aristocrats) and the Dutch Roots project (see Dutch Roots/Naming Convention). Check this page for links to other project-specific naming guidelines.
- If a person was enslaved and you only know their first name, follow the Naming Conventions for Slaves for their last name at birth. Although these guidelines were written specifically for the US, they can easily be used for other countries.
Surname prepositions, particles, and prefixes
Care must be exercised to ensure surnames that use a particle, prefix, or preposition, such as Le, La, De, Du, Van, Van Der, Den, Ten, Zum, etc. correctly reflect the spacing used in the individual's name when they were alive. Example "van den Berg" as compared with "Vandenberg". As with any other change of name, in the generation(s) where the rendering of the name changes, the version used at birth should be entered as the Last Name at Birth (LNAB), and the version used later should be reflected as the Current Last Name or in the Other Last Names field as appropriate.
In the case of medieval and earlier profiles (birth dates earlier than 1600), the standard for 'le', 'la, 'de' and 'du' is to NOT include them in the Last Name at Birth (LNAB) field, but to rather include them in the Current Last Name field. For example, Gilbert de Clare would have a LNAB of Clare and Current Last Name of de Clare. If you are unsure of what LNAB to use, please post a question on the G2G forum.
At no time should these prefixes be included as a middle name nor abbreviated. Continuing the above example, the Middle Name should not be "van den" and a surname should not be entered as "v. d. Berg".
Knowing what LNAB to use is often very difficult. If a person could fit within an established project consult with the project members and refer to project-specific style guides.
Use capitalization as appropriate. For example, McClellan instead of Mcclellan.
It is never appropriate to use ALL CAPS.
Note that in some technical contexts, the first letter of a field will display as if it is capitalized. For example, the WikiTree ID for someone named "van den Berg" will appear as "Van_den_Berg-1". The name should still be entered as "van den Berg".
Personal coding systems
Sometimes genealogists have their own coding systems for identifying or distinguishing individuals. These may be beneficial in personal research but on a shared website where we collaborate on the same ancestor profiles we should only use fields for their intended purposes, as described in this style guide.
Explain it all in the biography
If you're in doubt about something or don't have room in a fixed field, use the biographical text area.
Explanations of how names changed over time can be written out in detail.
Add Research Notes if there are name-related questions or issues.
Specific Rules for Individual Name Fields
This is for a name prefix or title such as Mrs, Sir, Dr, Gov, Sgt, etc.
If a person has multiple prefixes or titles use the highest, last or preferred one, e.g. Capt over Lt..
The prefix is limited to 10 characters.
Proper First Name
This field could also be called Formal First Name or First Name at Birth.
This is the formal given name that would appear in official documents.
If a person's name officially changed during their lifetime, this field should contain their first name at birth — unless their first name was officially changed soon after birth, e.g. with an infant adoption, or if the birth certificate was amended or corrected. You may want to put their first name at death in the Preferred First Name field but that field is not as formal. (See below). Either way, explain the name change in the biographical text.
This is a required field and cannot be left blank.
- If you're unsure of the Proper First Name, enter Unknown. If you can make an educated guess, enter that and mark the status as "uncertain". You might also wish to explain it in the biographical text. Do not use NN, or something like Twin, Daughter of X, Husband of Y, etc.
- If an infant died before he or she could be named use what is on their death record according to their conventions, otherwise use Unnamed Infant. Do not use Infant Boy, Baby Girl, etc. There is a Sex at Birth field for this.
- If you want extra privacy enter Anonymous or the first initial. Do not enter Living or a fake name or alias.
Preferred First Name
This field could also be called Informal First Name, Display Name or Colloquial Name.
It can also be used as Current First Name or First Name at Death but unlike Proper First Name (explained above) this is not a formal field. If the official first name at death is different from what they prefer to be called, use what they would prefer.
This is a required field and cannot be left blank.
If you're unsure of the preferred name, leave it the same as the Proper First Name.
If you want to leave it blank for privacy reasons, enter Anonymous or the first initial. Do not enter Living or a fake name or alias. This is appropriate for profiles of living persons only.
Middle initials should generally not be included in the Preferred First Name. If a living person wants to do this they should leave their Middle Name blank. Otherwise some name displays will duplicate the middle initial. For example, David John Schmoe, known as DJ, will appear as DJ J. Schmoe in some contexts.
This should be the full middle name(s).
If you only know a middle initial, use that in its place and mark the status as "uncertain."
If you don't know the middle name, leave it blank.
If you know that the person has no middle name, leave the field blank but make it clear to others that it's not just that the middle name is unknown by marking the status as "no middle name."
If you work in a culture that does not generally use middle names, there is a setting that enables you to hide the middle name field when creating profiles and automatically set "no middle name" indicators. Click here for more about the setting.
This field could also be called Other First Names, Also Known As or Aliases.
This can be used for almost anything. It's appropriate to put any first name here that doesn't fit neatly into the Proper First Name or Preferred First Name.
This and the Other Last Names field are the only one that can include multiple names. Separate these with commas (e.g. Frank, Frank the Tank).
Do not include quotation marks.
Last Name at Birth
This field could also be called Proper Last Name, Surname, or Maiden Name.
It is generally a family name but it could be a patronymic or whatever other standard is conventional for the person's time and place.
It is usually the formal name as it appears in official documents at the time of birth. However, it may not be exactly what appears in a birth record if:
- There was a spelling mistake or error in the document, or if the family name was more commonly spelled in a different way at the time of the birth (see the spelling conventions section above).
- The person was adopted as an infant and they never used their birth name.
"Dit" names should not go in this field. They can go in the Current Last Name, Other Last Name, or Nickname field, as appropriate.
If the last name is unknown, use Unknown in the field. Do not use Not Sure, NN, Wife of X, Adopted, etc. Use the English word Unknown regardless of the person's native language.
Current Last Name
This field could be called Preferred Last Name, Last Name at Death or Married Name.
For living people, it should be whatever they would currently prefer.
For non-living people, it should be the last name they were using at the time of their death. If a woman had multiple married names you can include the others in the Other Last Names field.
Other Last Names
This field could be called Alternate Last Names or Last Name Variations.
It could be used for alternative spellings that appear in the records.
This and the Other Nicknames fields are the ones that can include multiple names. Separate these with commas.
Suffix appears in every name display on WikiTree, even when a Prefix, Middle Name, or Current Last Name do not appear. Therefore, it is generally reserved for suffixes that are an essential part of the person's name. It is usually a Suffix at Birth, e.g. Jr. It may be a suffix or post-nominal acquired during a person's lifetime if the person themselves would have included it when writing their full name, e.g. Bt for Baronet. It should never be a suffix acquired after death or a suffix the person themselves would not have used.
If the person had multiple suffixes, it should generally only be the most important one for identification purposes. Others should be described in the biography. If a Prefix could substitute for a Suffix, that is recommended.
Suffix is limited to 10 characters.
Appearance of Name Fields on WikiTree
When considering what to put in the different name fields, you might want to consider how it will look on various WikiTree pages.
See the Name Displays help page and click the "Name Displays" link in the pull-down menu on any person-related page.
Name Fields for Living People
As noted in the "special rules for required fields" section above, all WikiTree profiles need a first name and last name.
It's in our Honor Code to respect privacy, and members have multiple Privacy Level options to control what information is shown publicly, including "Unlisted" where the name only appears for members of the Trusted List.
Active members cannot be Unlisted. For members and other living people, or recently-deceased nuclear family members of living people, anonymization is an option. This is where a first name or last name is changed to an initial or "Anonymous."
Using an initial or Anonymous for both the first and last name of a living person is strongly discouraged. A name like "John Anonymous" or "J. Smith" is anonymous. It should not be "Anonymous Anonymous."
Anonymization of long-dead people who are not nuclear relatives of living people is prohibited.
Name Fields for Pre-1700 Profiles
Projects have developed special naming conventions for almost all profiles of people born before 1700 and some later profiles.
Project style rules are extensions and elaborations on the general conventions for areas where they are difficult to apply. Before editing or creating profiles that are covered by a project, please read and understand the project's agreed-upon rules.
See the Name Field Guidelines directory.
- ↑ Using the same convention for unknown last names is important. In the long run, this clarifies things for everyone. It groups these profiles together in various alphabetical sorts. And we can program our systems to ignore profiles named Unknown in certain contexts.
- ↑ If a title cannot be properly paired with the Proper First Name at birth it should not be used in the Prefix field. Instead, it should be part of the Preferred First Name or Nicknames. For example, King is not an appropriate Prefix for George VI because his Proper First Name at birth was Albert and he cannot be called King Albert. See Name Fields for European Aristocrats.
This page was last modified 19:58, 24 March 2023. This page has been accessed 428,172 times.