I saved this one for last because dates and locations are pretty straightforward but names can get complicated. There is no way I can cover every name issue you will run across so I encourage you to followup with the listed resource at the bottom of the page or seek out additional articles. First some general rules:
- If you don't know a person's given name, leave it blank
- Descriptors don't go in a given name field (infant, baby girl, child)
- If all you have are initials for the given name there is a space between them. You record B. J. not B.J. UNLESS the person's name is just B J then no periods. You would only do this if the person was named B J at birth with those letters not standing in for anything
- If there is a single initial it is followed by a period UNLESS the initial is the person's full given name
- If I don't know a person's surname I enter [—?—] because that is a standard in published genealogy articles (the dashes are em dashes that you can make using the Windows shortcut ALT 0151)
- You always record a woman using her maiden name. If you don't know her maiden then then you will record [—?—]
- Record surnames in mixed case (Simmons) and not in all caps (SIMMONS). All caps were the standard years ago when books did not have indexes. It allowed you to scan a page just for surnames. In formal reports using the Register or Modified Register (NGSQ) numbering systems you will see some names in small caps. It helps the names stand out from the text. In a genealogy database program you will just enter mixed case
- You do not generate AKAs unless you actually have a document that records that name
- Nicknames can be recorded like this, William "Bill" Perry Simmons to alert people that he was known as Bill
There are four common issues you will see with surnames; Patronymics, French-Canadian "dit" names, Asian names that are recorded in reverse, and Spanish names where two surnames are recorded (a form of patronymics).
Patronymics is a naming system where the surname changes with each generation by adding a prefix/suffix meaning "son of" or "daughter of." Many countries used this naming pattern though the exact pattern is different from country to country. You will enter the names correctly even though it will look like the children have different surnames. For example, a Danish father named Niels Hansen will have sons with the surname Nielsen (son of Niels) and his daughters will have the surname Nielsdatter (daughter of Niels). The FamilySearch Wiki has separate pages for each country that uses a patronymic naming system. If you would like more information, search for the word "patronymic" to get a list.
French-Canadian dit names were used to differentiate people in the same community that had the same surname. It is basically an AKA that the person went by. You will enter the full surname plus the dit name in the surname field. For example, Rémy Thibault dit Charlevoix. You would enter Thibault dit Charlevoix in the surname field. Here is more information about Dit Names.
Some Asian Names
Some Asian countries put the surname first. I would use the given name field for the surname and the surname field for the given name so that any time you print, their name will appear as it would be said. In this case I feel it is a matter of respect. I wouldn't like my name printed everywhere as Simmons Michele. This means all of your children will have the same "given" name on the screen and different "surnames" but as long as you understand what is going on it will be fine. Chen Kenichi is a famous "Iron Chef." His surname is Chen. His father's name was Chen Kenmin.
Spanish Language Countries
In many Spanish counties people have two surnames, one from their father and one from their mother. When a woman marries, she will drop one of her surnames and add one of the husband's, usually with the word "de" between them. This really isn't so strange when you consider in the US we have a naming system where the wife drops her maiden name and takes on the husband's surname. For more information, see Traditional Hispanic Last Names and Spanish Naming Customs. I do not change the wife's name of record but rather put it as an AKA. Children will pick up a surname from their father and one from their mother to create a new double surname. I do record the children's surname correctly (they will all have the same double surname). Both surnames will go in the surname field. For example, María Ivanna Hernández Peña. Hernández Peña would go in the surname field. Hernández is María's father's first surname and Peña is her mother's first surname. Some Spanish/Hispanic countries also practiced true patronymics (son of and daughter of). For an example of this, read the first entry under the surnames heading in this essay on names in Mexico.
I tried to cover the most common things you will encounter but there are many other things to consider with names, such as prefixes, suffixes, titles and peerage, farm names, clan names, tribal names, etc. There is just too much for one article but I hope you have enough information to enter most of the names you will come across.
Slawson, Mary H. Getting It Right, The Definitive Guide to Recording Family History Accurately. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Malloy Lithographing Incorporated, 2002.
Though I don't agree with everything in the book, Mary has done a good job addressing some of the unusual situations you will come across. The book does needs to be updated but it still presents solid information.
Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.