|While this essay is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline itself, it is intended to supplement the Wikipedia:Disambiguation guideline and Wikipedia:Article Titles policy page, to which editors should defer in case of inconsistency between that page and this one.|
Disambiguation on Wikipedia is necessary when two or more uses share the same name, because only one of them can have that ambiguous name as its title - the titles of the other uses must be disambiguated. Unnecessary disambiguation (or Unnecessary precision) is disambiguation that is not necessary for this technical reason. For example, since the city in Ontario is considered to be the primary topic of Welland, adding ", Ontario" to that title (i.e., moving it to Welland, Ontario) would be unnecessary disambiguation. Since the reason sometimes given for such disambiguation is to "preempt" conflicts with other uses some time in the future, this practice is sometimes referred to as preemptive disambiguation, and often considered unnecessary per WP:CRYSTAL.
- 1 Background
- 2 But making a title more descriptive is not disambiguation, so it's not unnecessary disambiguation
- 3 So why not accept "unnecessary disambiguation" to make titles more descriptive/helpful?
- 4 Concision and the recognizability scope limitation in title selections
- 5 The redlink basename problem
- 6 What about consistency?
- 7 Contrived dab page
- 8 Examples of titles consistent with avoiding unnecessary disambiguation
A natural title of an article is a descriptive name or phrase commonly used in ordinary speech to refer to the article topic, in contrast to titles using commas, parentheses or other punctuation marking phrase separations. The default title is the title an article would have if conflicts with other uses of that name did not have to be considered. For topics with names, the default title is usually the name used most often by reliable sources to refer to that topic.
When the default title is ambiguous with other subjects, it must be "disambiguated". Disambiguation is necessary on Wikipedia due to a technical issue: no two articles can share the same title. Thus WP:Disambiguation defines disambiguation in Wikipedia with the following opening sentence:
- Disambiguation in Wikipedia is the process of resolving the conflicts that arise when a single term is ambiguous—when it refers to more than one topic covered by Wikipedia articles.
Further, WP:PRECISION states:
- Usually, titles should be precise enough to unambiguously define the topical scope of the article, but no more precise than that.
So, interpreting "topic covered by Wikipedia articles" to mean either topics with full articles that could be titled by that same name, or topics covered in sections of articles to which that title would be a reasonable redirect (e.g. Queen stage), page titles should only be disambiguated when there is a conflict with another covered topic. If a name is used for only one article, its title should not be disambiguated, even if similar pages are disambiguated. That's way adding more information to a name in a title when it's not needed for disambiguation is called "unnecessary disambiguation" or "unnecessary precision".
If multiple articles have the same logical name (for example Delta rocket), they are disambiguated by adding either parenthetic or natural disambiguation to the title. (See WP:DAB for definitions of parenthetical and natural disambiguation.) This system resolves naming conflicts. It should not be used to make concise and precise titles more descriptive.
Therefore, disambiguation is not necessary unless there are other articles that discuss a topic with the same name. For example, using the article title "Delta IV rocket" would be unnecessary disambiguation, since the only "Delta IV" discussed on Wikipedia is a rocket.
But making a title more descriptive is not disambiguation, so it's not unnecessary disambiguation
Occasionally certain editors object to characterizing the practice of making titles more descriptive as "unnecessary disambiguation". They argue that making a title more descriptive is not disambiguation, so it's not unnecessary disambiguation.
However, just because the purpose of adding descriptive information to the name of a topic in its title is done to make the title more helpful, not for disambiguation, does not mean it's inappropriate to refer to this as unnecessary disambiguation. After all, if the name was ambiguous with other uses on Wikipedia, and the topic was not primary for that name, then disambiguation would be necessary. So if the name is primary or unique, the additional descriptive information is unnecessary disambiguation, even if it is also more helpful.
So why not accept "unnecessary disambiguation" to make titles more descriptive/helpful?
Title minimization, (a.k.a. title concision, title succinctness, or avoiding unnecessary precision in titles) is generally preferred to help us achieve the goal of long-term title stability and reducing conflict about titles. The situation often arises that the choice is between the current title and an alternative. If strong arguments based on WP:AT and WP:D can be made supporting both, meaning that both are acceptable titles, choosing the more concise of the two is a highly effective tie breaker.
One might suggest that choosing the more descriptive title is an equally effective tie breaker, except it isn't. Choosing the more descriptive title is not effective because there is no obvious limit to "more descriptive". Almost any title could be improved in terms of becoming more descriptive.
But if we always favor the most concise of acceptable titles for a given article, then that title is likely to remain the most concise acceptable choice for a long time, if not forever.
One might suggest that consensus can decide in such cases what is the best balance of all the factors, including balancing concision and how descriptive the title is, but such a subjective decision depends entirely on whoever happens to be participating in the evaluation, and can change any time anyone proposes a change. That suggests instability.
If we all agree to favor the more concise title in such cases, there is no sound grounds for anyone to propose a change (unless something changes, like another use of that title becomes commonly used). That leads to stability in titles.
But, conciseness applies when other factors don't strongly favor one title over another. If a proposed alternative is much better than the current title for reasons well grounded in policy, guidelines and conventions, and an equivalent argument cannot be made favoring the current title, then it is supported better by policy and convention, even if it's less concise.
Concision and the recognizability scope limitation in title selections
Unnecessary disambiguation is often cited as a reason to favor a more concise title in title discussions. While recognizability is also a criteria to be given consideration, its scope is explicitly limited to "someone familiar with the topic". In other words, we don't try to make our topics recognizable from the titles to anyone who is not already familiar with the topic. That's why we favor Laeken over Laeken, Belgium, Welland over Welland, Ontario, Nicholas Campbell over Nicholas Campbell (actor) (let alone Nicholas Campbell (Canadian actor)), Happy Sad over Happy Sad (album), Putsj over Putsj (magazine), Cincinnati over Cincinnati, Ohio, etc., etc.
Community support for this scope limitation to recognizability is demonstrated implicitly in the fact that most of our topics are recognizable from their titles only to those who are already familiar with the topic in question, something that can be easily verified with any WP:RANDOM sampling of a dozen or so titles, especially if any titles which are recognizable only because of necessary disambiguation are omitted from the sample. For example, Lorca (album) and Harley, Ontario are recognized as being an album and a city in Ontario respectively by those unfamiliar with the album and city, but only because they disambiguated with (album) and , Ontario respectively, due to conflicts with other uses of their respective names.
Community support for the recognizability scope limitation has also been explicitly demonstrated with unanimous support at this 2012 poll on WT:AT: Wikipedia talk:Article_titles/Archive_35#Once and for all: Poll to establish the consensus.
The practice of unnecessary disambiguation, particularly when excused by a naming convention that purportedly indicates the simple unadorned name of the topic should be disambiguated even if there are no other uses for that name, tends to cause the creation of redlink basenames - the unadorned titles remain red links, like these.
What about consistency?
The consistency title criterion of WP:AT is often cited as a reason to use a longer title when a shorter title, consisting of the simple commonly used name for the topic, will suffice and has no disambiguation issues. The consistency criterion is defined as follows:
- Consistency – The title is consistent with the pattern of similar articles' titles. Many of these patterns are listed (and linked) in the box of Topic-specific conventions on article titles.
Like all WP:CRITERIA, consistency is but one consideration. There is no requirement to meet the consistency criterion at the expense of concision, for example.
It certainly makes sense to rely on consistency when there is an applicable topic-specific convention and the other criteria do not clearly indicate a title without disambiguation issues. There is no known debate about that.
Controversy arises when the other criteria indicate an appropriate and available (unambiguous or primary topic) title that is different from that indicated by an applicable topic-specific convention. One school of thought is that such conventions should only be followed when disambiguation is necessary. Many guidelines, like Wikipedia:Naming conventions (films), state this explicitly, and there is little controversy about those titles. Thus we have Gone with the Wind (film) and Unforgiven. This is true for many place names as well, thus we have Laeken and Haren, Belgium - both districts of Brussels, but only the latter is disambiguated, because only it needs it. Another school of thought is that such conventions should be followed even when disambiguation is not necessary. Only a few naming guidelines still explicitly call for this, most notably WP:USPLACE, a guideline with a long history of controversy, at least partially because many believe consistency should not trump concision (and believe a shorter appropriate name clearly meets concision better than a longer name).
Contrived dab page
Sometimes editors try to legitimize unnecessary disambiguation by creating a contrived dab page. A contrived dab page is one on which only one entry legitimately refers to an actual use on Wikipedia - all the others are invalid dab page entries like red links, partial title matches, references to pages not on Wikipedia, etc. These can be corrected by reducing the dab page to the one valid entry, then changing it to a redirect, and finally moving the article about the only use over the redirect (usually by using the WP:RM process).
Examples of titles consistent with avoiding unnecessary disambiguation
Below is a list of examples of pairs of titles from similar articles, each of which is consistent with general naming principles, but doesn't appear to be named consistently with the other. Note that these are not cherry-picked exceptions, but were mostly found by simply clicking on SPECIAL:RANDOM a few times, and exemplify the status quo.
What this illustrates is that it is normal on WP for titles of similar articles to not follow the same format, and that when the titles of two similar articles don't follow the same format (typically, one is disambiguated while the other is not), that doesn't mean something is wrong that needs to be fixed.
- Laeken – Haren, Belgium
- Districts of Brussels
- No conflicts for Laeken, so no need to disambiguate, but Haren needs to be disambiguated from other uses of that name.
- Note how the information that there is no other Laeken (or this one is the primary topic, which, if so, is made obvious by a hatnote to another article or dab page at the top of the article) but there is another Haren is instantly gleaned from these titles, information that would be much more difficult to ascertain if all suburbs of Brussels were disambiguated whether they needed to be or not.
- Welland – Harley, Ontario
- Both are Ontario communities with large francophone populations. Only the ones needing disambiguation are disambiguated with ", Ontario".
- Queen Victoria – Victoria of Baden
- Both are royalty; queens named "Victoria"
- If looking consistent was important to us, then the first would still be at Victoria of the United Kingdom
- Nicholas Campbell – Douglas Campbell (actor)
- Both are Canadian male film actors with common English first names and the Campbell surname, but (actor) is in the title only when necessary for disambiguation.
- Again, note that we instantly can see that Nicholas is either the only Nicholas Campbell on Wikipedia, or is the primary topic for that name, and also that there is more than one Douglas Campbell covered on Wikipedia.
- Happy Sad – Lorca (album)
- Both are Tim Buckley albums
- Lorca – Cieza, Murcia*
- Cities in Murcia
- Confirmed Dead – The Economist (Lost)
- San Francisco – Salinas, California
- California cities.
- Note that in this case Salinas would be disambiguated even if it was the only Salinas, because, unfortunately, all U.S. cities that are not on the "AP list" are disambiguated whether it's necessary for disambiguation, or not. So we can't tell whether a given U.S. city name is the only (or primary) use of that name just by looking at the title, unless it happens to be on the "AP list".
- Limerick – Cork (city)
- Cities within synonymous counties in Ireland.
- Here the disambiguation of Cork illustrates the technique that usefully differentiates a use from other uses of that name. Of course the other use is the material to make bottle stoppers, so this Cork is differentiated by noting that it is a city.
- New Providence High School – Union High School (New Jersey)
- Koshlauch – Alat, Russia – Shali, Republic of Tatarstan – Gruzinsky (settlement) – Murali, Arsky District, Republic of Tatarstan
- Saint-Edmond – Sainte-Foy, Saône-et-Loire
- Putsj – Bravo (magazine)
- Ebro – Ega (river) – Esgueva – Esla (river)
- (rivers of Spain that start with E)
- Spandau (locality) – Mitte (locality) - Wedding (Berlin) – Britz
In each case, the reason for the apparent inconsistency is the same:
- On Wikipedia most titles are consistent with the idea that it is best to disambiguate only when necessary.