Naming Conventions

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For the Big Tree (World Family Tree) it is important that we try to unite on one good naming practice, trying to use the best genealogical standard. There is some additional info on this subject in this project: Coalition for the Standardization of Geni Naming Conventions

For our modern profiles we of course use what we’re used to: close relatives, living people, claimed profiles, all will write their names correctly according to how it is done legally in the country in question.

But for the parts of the tree many people share, usually starting 1700 and back, we need to cooperate to get it as good as possible, by both genealogical and historical standards. We must remember when working in the Big Tree with historical profiles that naming practices were often very different from what we are used to in our own culture, in our own language, or in our own time. When we encounter something where we are not sure or lack the knowledge, we must ask for help, or at least leave it to the ones who are experts in the area.

The following naming conventions are general guidelines for the world family tree on Geni, and especially for the Medieval Period (roughly 500-1500 AD or CE). You will see more specific naming conventions for particular cultures and time periods.

Main Principles

  • Name as close to original name as possible, geography and time period to be taken into consideration. Make use the language tabs.
  • Do not include an index ID numbering scheme in the person's name - if it's not part of their name, suffix (e.g. I,II) or a title, don't put it in the name fields.
  • Avoid using the name fields to force a formatting preference in the shared tree, such as birth name in all CAPS - allow for user preference.
  • In general, keep data from Master Profiles after merges, unless there is new and verified information with more accurate or specific data coming from a new profile (in this case, it is best to check with the curator of the Master Profile to alert him or her to the new information)
  • Include Titles as part of the Display Name. In certain cases, it may acceptable for the Last Name (if there is no other surname) or Suffix field (if there is a surname); this is controversial and may vary even among curators.
  • Additional titles should be placed in Work (Occupation) with year frame
  • The concept of a "maiden name" or "birth name" (that is, family surname of women prior to marriage) is culturally and historically specific and not universal. Most curators agree that the birth name field should be used for birth names or original names. In most historical profiles, especially in those prior to the 1600s, the Last Name should be the same as Birth Name. Please do not put married (i.e., husbands') names under Last Name field for women in pre-1700 Europe or other locations where it's historically inaccurate. Currently, the use of Last Name as married name for women is quite controversial and is used primarily for more recent (e.g., Colonial American) profiles but should only be used in periods and locations that such things existed. Please remember not to force your own cultural conventions on the past or on other cultures. It would be fine to include a variation with the husband's surname in the AKA section, so that it helps with searching and matching technology.
  • All names a person is known by in any source should be listed in Nicknames: bynames (especially in English), additional titles, variations

No all CAPS

Avoid entering names in all CAPS (upper case) and similar all lower case - use mixed case as appropriate for name. In the common historical tree, we do not use capitalized surnames (or maiden names), even if some users prefer it for their closer relatives. Using all CAPS is an expression of emphasis and in most Internet communities it indicates shouting or yelling. It was important in paper genealogy and some genealogy software programs have “show maiden names” and/or “show last names” in capitals, as a method of making name lists easier to read. This is, however, not applicable on Geni where we have defined name fields, display preferences, and want profiles to be orderly and nice-looking. Uploads to Geni from users who have chosen this option in their private genealogy files will often result in profiles having all CAPS names. However, these should be edited when merged into our Big Tree. No one expects you to change it all at once, but we’ll fix as we go. If you prefer to view the maiden name in all CAPS, you can set this as a display option under the tree preferences or account settings under name preferences.

✔ Jason McDonald
✘  jason mcdonald


For all active mergers: Make sure you have ”show middle names” enabled (ticked). For most historical people there will be valuable information here. You can always switch it off as a display option when viewing more recent lines in your personal tree if you prefer that. Maiden names (the term should certainly be renamed “original last name” or “birth (last) name” and be included regardless of gender) should also be shown, as these are the most important ones from a genealogical perspective. To adjust, go to your Name Preferences here.

Multi-language localizations and Non-Latin alphabets

For languages with a different alphabet than the Latin letters the western world is used to, both original language and English/Western is interesting and useful. In such cases names should be included in both alphabet forms, in corresponding multi-language tabs. In the terms of some Wiki systems they are called "localizations".

This is applicable for Hebrew, Russian and other languages using Cyrillic, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Indian etc – profiles of people from cultural areas using a different alphabet, to make the profiles readable and searchable also to the English speaking world.

Special localizations exist also for different languages using basic Latin alphabet: German, French, Dutch etc. In this case the basic alphabet is Latin, but one should use some special characters (usually accented) in each localization.

For historical and public figures one should always give both English and original language localizations, if possible. There are discussions if "only local" localization without English is acceptable for ordinary people. It is clear that "only local" language choice strongly reduce the power of the search engines.

Unfortunately, before the introduction of multi-language tabs in 2014, the work around was to give both Latin and Non-Latin name divided by a / in the same Last Name field. Many of them were corrected, but if you find them, please, move them into multi-language tabs. Examples of transformation of slash style to standard multi-language:

  • OldFirst="Ярослав I Мудрий / Yaroslav I the Wise" into RussianFirst="Ярослав I Мудрый" EnglishFirst="Yaroslav I the Wise"
  • OldMiddle="Владимирович / Vladimirovich" into RussianMiddle="Владимирович" EnglishMiddle="Vladimirovich"
  • OldLast="Grand Duke of Kiev / Великий князь киевский" into RussianTitle="Великий Князь Киевский" EnglishTitle="Grand Duke of Kiev"

With right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew the rules before the introduction of multi-language localizations in 2014 were:

1) Use BOTH the name-fields AND the display name. The name-fields are important for searching and matches, and the display name is for displaying them properly when put together. Take our Israeli curator Shmuel Kam's profile, for example:

First name: Shmuel-Aharon / שמואל-אהרן Last name: Kam / קם "Maiden" name: Kahn / קאן Display Name: Shmuel-Aharon Kam (Kahn) / (שמואל אהרן קם (קאן

2) When combining right-to-left languages with LTR (left-to-right), such as English, for example Adam / אדם / آدم ., it is crucial to place the English first. Otherwise the text becomes "impossible" to edit and sometimes even read.

Now these profiles should be also transformed into multi-language style. For actual multi-language local region rules, please, address the corresponding regional sections of the documentation.

Place Names and Particles

A lot of names that later developed into surnames, and title-names, are based on places, telling us something about where a person was from or where he or she lived or ruled. Such names are common especially for nobility and landed gentry in many countries. These typically contain something similar to a preposition or "particle". A particle before a name is always written in lowercase letters; only the place/name is capitalized.

Thus (correct language-rule also applying):

  • de Bourgogne (not “Of Burgundy”),
  • de Normandie (not “Of Normandy”)
  • of England (not “Av England”)
  • d'Evreux (not “de Evreux” or “De evreux”)
  • d'Ivry (not "de Ivry" or "De Ivry"
  • von Sachsen (not “Of Saxony”)
  • van Vloandern and de Flandre (not “Of Flanders”)
  • av Valvatne
  • av Sverige (not "Of Sweden")

These names should also be treated as units and not split in Middle and Last Name fields. "Of" or "De" is never a Middle Name.

At some point in history these place names including particles often changed to regular surnames being perceived as ONE name, and spelling would often change to Devereaux, Delacroix, DeVere etc. The spellings of these and use of capitalization may vary a lot. Exactly how will be known by the families who use the names, but it does not apply to Medieval names. For more information, read the Wikipedia article.

Alternative Names, Aliases and Nicknames

Several Geni users have asked Geni to extend their naming fields in various ways, particularly to record different variations of the same names. Ideally we’d want additional space for names of all kinds: first, middle and last. It is important that all varieties of a name be recorded, as all forms are found in search and users will know historical people under different names.

At the moment we have the Nickname field (under “Basics” tab of the profile), more properly labeled "Also Known As," which is used for all these variations. We can and should also use the About/Overview to explain about different names when necessary, especially from which sources and/or languages they come.

  • Names recorded in different forms in different records by various officials: Maud, Matilde, Mathilda, Matilda
  • Bynames not already included with the First or Middle name (see other posts)
  • Real nicknames like “Ronny” for Ronald or “Curly” would be recorded there
  • Names in the languages which are still absent in multi-language tabs.

Names in other languages than the person’s own (for example: Baudouin de Flandre (French) or Boudewyn von Vloandern (West-Flemish) is known as “Baldwin of Flanders” in English) should be normally given in the multi-languages tabs(localizations).


Surnames are a fairly modern invention. The custom that a family starts using a name in common as a marker of being related started in Anglo-Norman culture around 1300. Different cultures and times have different customs, and to get it right we must know where and when we are. There would also very often be different customs for nobility and ordinary people.

  • Anglo-Normans and Anglo-Americans: hereditary surnames through paternal line from early 1300
  • Spanish speaking cultures: paternal surname + maternal surname both used
  • Scandinavians: patronymics and possibly farm names, few family/surnames, until c. 1800 (Denmark), c. 1850 (Sweden), c.1900 (Norway) or still currently used (Iceland)
  • Throughout Europe the legal requirement to have a Surname only became universal starting with Napoleon's census. Other countries, then did the same, mostly in the order of West to East.

For more info, see Wikipedia entries on: Surname and Family Name


The idea of Patronymics might be difficult to grasp for people who are only used to hereditary surnames and not this naming custom of being named as some version of "Child of X." However, throughout European and Arabic history (and maybe a lot more) this has been the most common type of names in addition to given names.

In the Nordic countries, in the early Norman world, in Celtic Scotland, Russia and other Slavic cultures it is important to know this system well if you are to write the names correctly and understand relations.

The general idea is that instead of a hereditary family name, the patronymic name consists of the father’s (or sometimes mother’s) given name + a prefix or suffix. Thus the names will change for each generation. Sometimes an additional name describing place, or a family name, would be added in addition to the patronymic.

For more information, please study the page about Patronymics.

Titles for nobility and royals

Geni offers a Title field when adding or editing profiles. Please use the title field only for professional, noble or uncommon honorifics, such a Doctor, Duke or Deacon. Certain titles are placed after the name and should be placed in the suffix field such as Esquire or Ph.D. Do not use this field for default courtesy titles such as Mr., Mrs. etc.

(Note: this field was added in 2016; older profiles may still have titles in the Suffix or Last Name fields. It is preferable to move these to the title field as you encounter them.)

  • For people with multiple titles, put only the Primary title (highest rank)or most important titles for identifying that person in the names fields, and the rest under Work (Occupation).

(Part of the controversy is fueled by this: if lesser ranks belong in Work, why don't higher ranks?)

Normally we use the Suffix field for titles in the Medieval period and earlier, with the last name field generally used for the name indicating geographical origin. During this early period, please follow the convention of the curators who specialize in these areas, since the conventions vary slightly from period to period and culture to culture.

Sometimes people seem to have come up with titles that do not exist. The Viking Jarls or Earls often had several mistresses, a frille, in addition to a wife. None of these had any title, and we can’t call anyone “Countess of Møre”, “Princess of Sweden” or anything like that. Viking kings’ daughters would be referred to as that and never as “Princess” which is a more recent title. Titles should be historically and culturally correct.

Sometimes people confuse titles and names, like the Scottish Mormaer. The same rule as always applies: If you’re not sure, leave it to somebody else. Between us we have experts in almost all fields in the Geni community.

However there are several forms of usage for titles together with names. We speak of

  • Queen Elizabeth II
  • H.R.H. Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith


  • Magnus Berrføtt
  • Kong Magnus III
  • Magnus Olafsson III, Konge av Norge

Our current practice is to fit the last of these versions (the most formal) into the current naming fields. For recent and current royalty, we might use the Display Name fields as well in order to get it all correct, including HRH etc. Those who disagree with the use of the naming fields as a place to put titles often feel that this idea -- using the display name -- addresses most of the controversies.


  • first: Richard 'le Bon'
  • middle: the Good
  • last: FitzRichard
  • maiden: de Normandie
  • suffix: Duc de Normandie

Titles would look like:

  • Konge af Danmark
  • Duc de Normandie
  • Comtesse d'Aumâle
  • King of Scots
  • Herzog von Bayern

Profiles prone to error and Awkward names

Like all rules we need exceptions to rules, and the most important exception will be for profiles particularly prone to errors, mix-ups, confusion. For profiles with names needing disambiguation, look for a Curator Note.

There are ways to avoid errors, and sometimes we have to add info in the name field that clearly distinguishes a profile from the ones it should not be confused with. Also: always write explanations for this in the Overview/About section of the profile, to explain. Where necessary or appropriate, a public discussion linking the profiles in question can also be a good idea.

The same system makes it sometimes necessary to have Placeholder profiles, that are not genealogically correct, but are there to prevent errors in the tree. Ex: NN Doda's unknown father (to avoid confusion with another person)

As there are multiple lines with errors and wrong connections, you will occasionally see names containing things like

  • Josceline [Sainfrida's daughter]
  • Josceline [Aveline's daughter]

If these are needed (and they are generally added by curators), please try to use the suffix field if possible and enclose the disambiguating information in square brackets.

We all agree that adding disambiguating information in the name field is ugly - but sometimes they are necessary and they all signal that work is going on in the area or that there are multiple issues. For some areas like the Anglo-Saxons most (!) of the material entered to Geni is wrong to start with (bad Gedcoms found on the internet etc) and thus these "names" are necessary tools to clean up the area and avoid wrong merges.

Please respect these, and contact Curators (or managers if these are active users) if you have questions about these "names".

Naming Placeholders

For unknown names that require a placeholder, please use NN (a Latin abbreviation) or "???" and not language dependent words like:

  • unknown
  • ukjent
  • okänd
  • desconocida
  • inconnu

In some cases, you may find more disambiguating information such as "Wife of Roger"; however, please do not use "Mrs." since it is not a universal title and should not be used for historical (placeholder) profiles. It is only applicable for Anglo-American people and from the 17th century onwards:

Wikipedia writes: “Mrs” originated as a contraction of the honorific “Mistress”, the feminine of “Mister” or “Master”, which was originally applied to both married and unmarried women. The split into “Mrs” for married women from “Ms” and “Miss” began during the 17th century

Area Specific Rules

Norman Naming Conventions:

  • Main principle: Name as close to original name as possible, with language, geography and time period to be taken into consideration
    • French names for Normans and early Anglo-Normans (thus: Richard I 'Sans-Peur' de Normandie, not Richard I 'the Fearless' of Normandy)
    • Titles usually go in the Suffix field, and written in French forms (Comte de, Duc de, Seigneur de, Comtesse de)
    • Additional titles may be placed in Work (Occupation) with year frame and should also be included in the About Me information
    • Adjust First Name field to avoid misunderstandings or mistaken identity where necessary, by adding order/number (I, II, III, etc.) and/or byname or sobriquet(generally in quote marks).
    • Patronymics (e.g., FitzRichard) may go in the Middle Name field if there is a place-based name for the last name field; otherwise, they may be put in the Last Name field
    • Maiden Names are normally not needed as there were none at the time; this field can be used for alternate name information as needed, for men or for women
    • All names a person is known by in any source should be listed in Nicknames (think "Also Known As"): bynames (especially in English), additional titles, variations.

Viking & Nordic Naming Conventions:

    • Nordic names for Nordic people
    • Titles go in the Last Name or Suffix field
    • Well-known Bynames are typically entered in the Last Name field
    • Patronymics in the Middle Name field
    • Adjust First Name field to avoid misunderstandings or mistaken identity where necessary, by adding order/number, byname, or patronymic if necessary
    • Maiden names are normally avoided as there were none at the time, but sometimes the patronymic must be entered here
    • Surnames were not in use, so the Last Name field is used as described above
    • All names a person is known by in any source listed in Nicknames: bynames, titles, variations

Anglo Saxon Naming Conventions:

  • Name as close to original name as possible, language, geography and time period to be taken into consideration
    • Anglo-Saxon names for Anglo-Saxon people (see the FMG-site listed above for info if unsure)
    • Titles usually go in the Last Name field
    • Additional titles in Work with year frame
    • Adjust First Name field to avoid misunderstandings or mistaken identity where necessary, by adding order/number or byname.
    • Maiden names are normally avoided as there were none at the time
    • All names a person is known by in any source listed in Nicknames: bynames (especially in English), additional titles, variations.

Irish Kings Naming Conventions:

For this project we prefer Gaelic spellings first, followed by English spellings, all separated by /. Keeping in the tradition of the "Big Tree", the surname field is always left blank until surnames are actually used - in Ireland, that would be the eleventh century. For example: Duach Laidrach / Dui Ladrach

Please remember that Gaelic uses the genitive form for names. If a person's father was Domnall, the correct form for that person will be mac Domnaill or ingen Domnaill. In this example Domnaill is the genitive form of Domnall. If you aren't familiar with using genitives in Gaelic, the best practice is to leave the name intact.

Scottish Kings Naming Conventions:

  • Name as close to original name as possible, language, geography and time period to be taken into consideration
    • Gaelic names for Scottish/Gaelic speaking people as far as possible
    • Patronymics in the Middle Name field
    • Titles usually go in the Last Name field
    • Adjust First Name field to avoid misunderstandings or mistaken identity where necessary, by adding order/number or byname.
    • Maiden names are normally avoided as there were none at the time
    • All names a person is known by in any source listed in Nicknames: bynames (especially in English), additional titles, variations.

Biblical Naming Conventions:

  1. In the Biblical lines alternate names (spellings or actual names) are separated by / marks, the "English" spellings first and then the Hebrew and/or Arabic.
  2. The surname field is ALWAYS set to a single period ( . ), unless the person has a very specific title (mostly kings). This helps keep all of the records the same (especially after merges, which might otherwise mess up the name), and enables the name to be found, in the Go To tab at the bottom of the tree (which doesn't work for blank surnames).
  3. The maiden-name field is also ALWAYS set to a period. Leaving it blank would cause the various funky stuff that people put in the maiden-name field to be automatically accepted when doing merges (which we want to avoid).

Roman Names

Roman names can be confusing because they do not follow modern European and American naming customs. As a general rule of thumb, the Roman surname is the second of three names, not the third. Geni's name fields do not yet handle Roman names effectively. The most effective workaround is to place all names in the First Name field. Leaving the Middle Name and Last Name field blank helps prevent erroneous merges.

The classic Roman name was the trianomina. That is, Roman men had three names. The first name (praenomen) was a given name. The second name (nomen) was the family name. The third name (cognomen) was originally a nickname, but became hereditary. This third name was the name by which men were known.

Using Gaius Julius Caesar as an example:

  • Gaius was his given name
  • Julius was his family name (surname)
  • Caesar was the name by which he was known

Roman women were generally known only by one name, the feminine form of the family's nomen. For example, the daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar was Julia.

This is a brief overview of a complex subject. For a simple introduction to Roman names, see Wikipedia, Roman Names.

Native American Names Guidance; Naming Conventions:

Native Americans are, for the purpose of this standard, considered to be those Indigenous peoples of North America. It may also apply to Native populations of Central and South America, but I will leave that up to those who know more about those peoples to validate or dismiss it for them.

The Indigenous peoples of the island state of Hawaii, and other that may be classified as Pacific Islanders are not included in this standard.

The populations of North America for this standard a broken down into three main groups.

Alaskan Natives;

Alaska Natives are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. They include: Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures.

The First Nations;

First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis.

U.S Native Americans;

Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States.

When doing Native American Genealogy it is important to know two major differences that may be encountered that seem strange.

The first is that most Eastern tribes were/are a Matriarchy. Wiki defines this as;

A matriarchy is a society in which females, especially mothers, have the central roles of political leadership and moral authority.

The second is the Clan/Band/longhouse /village and other terms that define a group of people within a group.

It is important to know that within a matriarchy society, the Clan/band of the children come not from the father but from the mother. (If the mother is of the dog clan and the father is of the wolf clan then the children become of the dog clan )

So with that said we will try to guide with simple rules.

  1. The names in Native American Sources, overrule those in non Native American sources (1)
  2. Original Native American Names before 1620 will only be one Name. This name goes in the "First Name " block and the Middle and last Name is left blank.
  3. The Suffix may contain a special "thing " about the person, Uka, Chief and Principal Chief is common. Also a village may be indicated as in "Him-he-is, of my village"
  4. If known the name should be hyphenated correctly
  5. Any variations of the name is to be put in the AKA
  6. The Ethnicity block (under the Personal tab) should contain the information in your source. Please do not guess at Tribe or clan/band etc. . If it is not in you source just list what you know. Fully it may look like "Wampanoag, Pokanoket , Paint" This information may be included in the "about" also if you wish.
  7. The display name is very important. Many times this is the "common name" or "nickname" of the person. a good example of this is "Massasoit Osamequin" (display name) but the name would be input "Osamequin, Massasoit" with several AKA (nicknames)

His profile is at

In order to be searchable, the display name must also be listed as an AKA

Now the task gets harder. As time move on, some tribes began using white names right away and others fought until the 20th century to keep their identities and there way of life. Some First Nation tribes still have not begun using last names (surname) so we will have to stay general in guidance.

  1. If your source (please upload it to the profile) says'; This-my- name also known as Mary Poppins then "This-my- name" goes into the first name block and Mary Poppins is the AKA.
  2. If your source says Mary Poppins AKA This-my- name, Then Mary goes in the First name Block, Poppins is the last name and This-my- name is the AKA
  3. If sources conflict then normally the OLDEST document will be used unless known to be wrong OR the Newer document is of Native American Origin.
  4. Names that use non-Latin letters will be an AKA unless your can not/or do not know the Latin letter equivalent.


  1. A native American Source or document is considered as a document that is written by an Authority on Native American Culture/Genealogy. This includes, An official paper or document written by a Native American school or tribe. It does not include Native Americans not living on Native Lands or Websites that use their "knowledge " of Native American's to turn a buck. There are many "Wanna-be" Indians that pose as Native Americans to exploit them. Please use caution when using these sites as much of the info is just for show.
  2. Latin Letters- the normal Latin alphabet plus special accent marks as found in Spanish, French and some Native American Languages.
  3. In a name like "John Red Fox" "John" is the first name, "Red Fox" is the last name.

Naming Conventions of US Slaves

Slavery in the US is believed to have begun in Winyah Bay, now South Carolina, in 1526 and continued until 1865. During this 339 year period, slaves were only known by a single name and by who their owner were.

Kenneth Welsh made the statement

"From my research over the years, I have found that the "average slave," a 35-year old man or woman, would have maybe 5 or 6 last names, and 2-3 first names. The first name was usually kept, as they went from master to master, but the last name changed more frequently. Also, most slaves were not "called" by both names, just the first name, "Moses," "Tom" or "Issa." Only on bills of sales, auction listings or family documents were both names used."

Keeping this in mind and after a public discussion, we have come of with the following guidelines that should help all users the information needed to do their own research.

All US slaves should be put in the project

If the owner owned a lot of slaves, associated projects could be opened or opened for that owner as a subproject of

Format as

FN: as known

MN: (blank)

LN: (blank)

Birth surname: (blank)

Display name example: Ned, slave of Agnes Witt

AKA... List of other slave owners EX; Ned slave of John Blue, Ned slave of Fred Ugly

About.. any other information that may be helpfull to other researchers

Sources... all sources should be uploaded to the profile so other researchers can see it

Ethnicity.. "Black" or "Mulatto" etc (as per source)

Occupation.. Job title if known EX.. Worked in Main House, Farmer, Cotton Picker

Russian Naming Conventions:

There was the discussion in 2011-2012 on Naming Conventions: Russian Empire and Tsardom of Rus. The updated summary and the rules should be linked to this page. For the time being here follows some examples for filling profiles of Russian persons:

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