Naming Conventions

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For the Big Tree it is important that we try to unite on one good naming practice, trying to use the best genealogical standard. 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.

Main Principles

  • Name as close to original name as possible, language, geography and time period to be taken into consideration
  • Titles may go in 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 Maiden Names field is also controversial, since the concept of a "maiden name" (that is, family names of women prior to marriage) is culturally and historically specific and not universal. Most curators agree that the maiden name field (available for men as well as women, but "hidden" for men--one needs to switch gender to female to reveal it) should be used for birth names or original names. In most historical profiles, especially in those prior to the 1600s, the Last Name would be the same as Maiden Name. Please do not put married (i.e., husbands') names under Last Name field for women in pre-1700 Europe. 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. Do NOT force your own cultural conventions on the past or on other cultures!
  • All names a person is known by in any source should be listed in Nicknames: bynames (especially in English), additional titles, variations
  • 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)

Names in original languages

Even if Geni started out as an American website, the Big Tree contains profiles of people from the whole world, more or less. Out of respect for all the different languages and cultures, we should always try to use the original name where known and possible, and where it is not more confusing. Only if the original name is very different from English or difficult to understand for the majority of people on Geni, the English or most common name form can be added to the original name, and then usually in the Middle Name section as clarification in addition to other names. All varieties of a name should always be added in Nicknames. Sometimes the historic or archaic language is known and can be used; if not, please use a more modern form of the language of the area. This also applies to titles, so a Count (English) who is French would become a Comte, for example. If you are working in a particular area of the historical tree, it is important for you to learn the linguistic and cultural naming norms for that time period, language and culture.


  • Guillaume d'Aquitaine (instead of William of Aquitaine)
  • Guillaume le Conquérant de Normandie, king of England (instead of William the Conqueror)
  • Svend Estridsen av Danmark (dansk/Danish)
  • Æthelred Unræd (Anglo-Saxon/Old English)
  • Boudewyn van Vloandern (West Flemish) and Baudouin de Flandre (French)
  • Hedwig von Sachsen (Deutch/German)
  • Louis ‘le Saint’ Roi de France (French)
  • Philippe de Bourgogne (French)
  • Alfonso II 'el Casto' Rey de Aragón (Spanish)

In cases where the name translation is unrecognizable in English, you may put the English variant in the Nicknames or even the maiden name field (for a man) as an alternate so they will be searchable: these cases include Bourgogne (Burgundy), Sachsen (Saxony), Bretagne (Brittany), and so on.

If you do not speak and write all languages – which will be the case for all of us at some point – we should be careful. Try to maintain the accent marks and superscript of the original language if possible. For example, to find a French name for a French historical person: Check the person’s English Wikipedia page, then see if there is a link to the French parallel page (most often there is). Copy-paste the name from there. This works for all languages. It is also a very good idea when we need letters we do not have on our keyboard: ø, æ, Þ

No all CAPS

Avoid entering names in all CAPS. 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. 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 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.


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.

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, divided by a / if necessary for clarity.

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.


  • first: Ярослав I Мудрий / Yaroslav I the Wise
  • middle: Владимирович / Vladimirovich
  • last: Grand Duke of Kiev / Великий князь киевский, I

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 “personal” on 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 in other languages than the person’s own: Baudouin de Flandre (French) or Boudewyn von Vloandern (West-Flemish) is known as “Baldwin of Flanders” in English
  • 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


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

There are two possibilities:

  • If there is a Surname in addition to the Title, put the main title in the Suffix field.
  • If there is no Surname or Last Name, put the Title in the Last Name field.

There are some who disagree strongly with both of these possibilities, largely on the twin basis that some titles are not actually names and therefore have no place in any name field, and that 'overloading' name fields with additional names tends to mask the genealogical relationships.


  • 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:


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).
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