Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Biographies

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WikiProject Manual of Style
WikiProject icon This page falls within the scope of WikiProject Manual of Style, a drive to identify and address contradictions and redundancies, improve language, and coordinate the pages that form the MoS guidelines.

Common name, birth name and post-nominal initials[edit]

I noticed an editor making a excellent job of cleaning up bios to conform with the MOS. In one case Mark Evaloarjuk, I notice that the style guide does not give any information as to the correct format. Is the current opening correct, with the exception that "nee" should be "ne", or should it be '''Mark Evaloarjuk''' (né '''Evaluarjuk'''), [[Order of Canada|CM]] (died [[July 3]], [[2002]] By the way would it be possible to rewrite Wikipedia:Manual of Style (biographies)#Maiden names so that it applied to both women and men?

Including both middle name and married name in intro[edit]

As discussed in the appropriate talk page, there's an editing dispute in the article about Shelley Moore Capito, whose middle name is Wellons and married name is Capito. Another editor excludes the middle name for being confusing to readers, despite my pointing out that articles about Holly Robinson Peete and Hillary Rodham Clinton - two other women who use their married names professionally - open with their subjects' middle names. Is there a definite standard for these types of situations? Arbor to SJ (talk) 06:16, 2 August 2014 (UTC)

@Arbor to SJ:If the two names are significantly different, as with Ray Manzarek, isn't the standard to state the WP:NATURAL which is usually their given name from birth; and then parenthetically state the WP:COMMONNAME which is usually their current, married, name? That's how I've always seen it. It's the same with stylized brands, to state the de-stylized name followed by the "stylized as" or "sometimes referred to as". The point is that the natural takes precedent over the common, but you never totally lose either one. — Smuckola (Email) (Talk) 20:29, 2 August 2014 (UTC)
With women who change their name on marriage, I think the standard is rather to give the married name first (unless they are still better known by their maiden name, perhaps). This isn't exactly the question being asked, though. W. P. Uzer (talk) 20:58, 2 August 2014 (UTC)
Correct. The Sarah Michelle Gellar article opens with her married name (then her maiden name) since she doesn't use her maiden name legally now, in comparison with the Clinton and Peete articles I linked earlier. But Capito uses both her maiden & married names professionally. My question is if there's a consistent standard of including middle names in introductions of articles about women who changed their names in marriage. Arbor to SJ (talk) 18:02, 3 August 2014 (UTC)

The article says this: they should not be mentioned within the opening brackets. Why is this mysteriously in quotation marks and where are the RfC discussions that the latest edits refer to about this subject? Thanks. — Smuckola (Email) (Talk) 19:43, 5 August 2014 (UTC)

I think you're looking for the very long thread titled #OPENPARA, higher up this page. W. P. Uzer (talk) 20:40, 5 August 2014 (UTC)

Policy regarding death details in biographies?[edit]

Do we have a policy regarding when to include details of death, including how, where, location of burial, etc? I believe these details should only be included if they are a notable aspect of the person's biography. For a typical death, the date of death is sufficient.--Karinpower (talk) 04:13, 16 August 2014 (UTC)

I don't agree - I think these are facts that many readers would expect to find in a biography. If we have such information from good sources, then it should certainly be included. W. P. Uzer (talk) 06:55, 16 August 2014 (UTC)
Why is this even a discussion, there is no Death section in the guidelines WP:MOSBIO, the current crisis on the Robin Williams page has definitely brought this issue to the forefront. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 01:25, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
There's no "crisis" at the Robin Williams article. There's one editor (Slave28) making a mountain out of a worm hole that doesn't even really exist. -- Winkelvi 01:33, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Obviously it exists if you made your way here to debate the issue, I am not the only one who brought up issues regarding descriptions regarding his death, both pro and con, don't be making accusations you can't back up. Had I been making edits to go with my remarks on the talk page fine, but all I have done is brought up issues I thought needed to be addressed which I saw as not appropriate for an encyclopedia, only to watch the same group continually outvote any idea put forth by anyone. You wanted citations and guidelines, I gave them to you, don't come on this page and make accusations. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 01:40, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
I made my way here via looking at your contributions log. My purpose in commenting is to dispel the hyperbole you are engaging in at this talk page. I've made no accusations, however, you are making threats. And in light of that, I'm advising you to back off and change your tone and attitude or the way this is starting to go will not end well for you. -- Winkelvi 01:55, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
I will not comment on that, it is taking us away from what this section should be about, therefore I will simply return to the topic. Still no death category suggested on the guidelines for biography. So when did the whole death category get started without this page ever getting updated? --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 02:18, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
  • I think there is a good reason why we don't have a death section. Because, at this time, if a figure is confirmed dead they do not fall under the current guideline unless there is contentious material being added, in which case the recently dead can be covered by our policy up to 2 years. However....if the information is public and encyclopedic (where someone is being interred is very much encyclopedic content) it should be included, just as how, and where they died would be included.--Mark Miller (talk) 02:36, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Hmm ..very interesting point, thanks for your view on the matter Mark Miller. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 02:46, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Now...having said that I also know that there are many biographies where there is no mention of the location of the cemetery etc., cases where the subject had great "fame", such as Marylin Monroe: "Monroe was interred on August 8, 1962, in a crypt at Corridor of Memories No. 24, at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery" (From our article), so it is not out of place or odd to mention where celebrities are buried. Monroe's article even includes a picture of the crypt.--Mark Miller (talk) 05:27, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
I can definitely see a burial location as being part of an article. That would certainly fall within the boundaries of important facts for encyclopedic requirements. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 05:33, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Lots of articles do have a "Death" section (or something that includes it, e.g. "Later life, and death", "Abduction and murder", "Disappearance and death", "Retirement and death", "Battle with cancer, and death", "Exile and death", "Imprisonment and death", "Mystery surrounding death", "Fatal stunt", etc., etc.). Whether to include such a section is a matter for consensus at the article in question (and the answer is usually "no", unless the death itself was important to understanding of the subject, or was a natural or contingent consequence of something that was important to understanding the subject, or the article is quite long and needs a denoument section for the end of the subject's life). Regardless, it's absolutely routine to include basic death information, including cause, in any non-BLP bio, usually in the "Personal life", "Non-professional life" or similar section after the meat of the subject's career is covered. It's expected information, and if it's removed, someone will just re-research it and add it again later.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  10:25, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Thanks for weighing in SMcCandlish. I fully agree with you, there has been sections regarding individuals deaths for quite some time in biographies. My main concern was the direction of the article in question. I am a recent addition to the editors on Wikipedia but have been reading for as long as I can remember, and I have quite a fondness for it. But I think the current case regarding Robin Williams is of particular interest. It does touch on what you have mentioned above, yes I agree his death should be reported, but to what extent, and in all honesty, should details of how he proceeded to end his life truly necessary for encyclopedic material, on this I disagree, which has been the impasse I was having on the talk page there. The details have been toned down dramatically since they first began to appear, which is progress, I simply think that on the matter of suicide, it is probably best that the editors of Wikipedia should come together as a group, and for the better of not only Wikipedia itself, but for those who suffer from any form of mental health issues who may be tempted to follow the path a celebrity may have taken, use the tools we so glamorously put on display. I tried leading everyone to this talk page for a discussion as it seemed the appropriate forum, since it was the base page for biographies, and it does use the term, guidelines, which is a term that keeps getting pointed out to me on a regular basis. Finally, would you agree that a persons death should be a subsection as opposed to a section in itself. Based on the Infobox Biography, that would seem to fit the guidelines, as OCD of me as it sounds (sorry, I am OCD LOL, Order not Chaos & Disorder is what I call it, makes me feel better about the condition). --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 12:18, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
I see what your concern it, but it's not an MOS matter at all, it's about appropriateness and relevance of content in the context in question. No one's bio article should be dominated by detailia about their death, except in the case of someone principally or only notable because of how (or controversy about how) they died. There'll never be a "Wikipedia does not provide suicide details" policy here, because (except when people wrongly add WP:Original research against our rules), everything in WP has already been published elsewhere, and Wikipedia is not censored.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  12:58, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
So it is fair to say, based from what I am reading, in regards to suicide, yes we should post it, it's details to a certain extent, but not a full section on the subject. A mere passing mention that a person committed suicide in such a way, should be sufficient for an individuals biography. And I fully understand that Wikipedia is not censored but that it also has limitations on what can be posted, so there would be a line that could not be crossed of course. I sincerely appreciate you time on this matter SMcCandlish, at the very least, it has answered some of concerns. On another matter, what do you think of adding a parameter for Widow to the Infobox Biography, since spouse no longer correctly applies after ones passing. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 13:26, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Others may contradict me; I don't make any rules here. I'm trying to get across that I think how and whether to present suicide-related details is just like most decision about how and whether to present details at an article - it's up to editorial discretion at the article, unless there is some external rule (at MOS or where ever) that could affect it. This one doesn't seem to be an MOS matter. Neither is whether the parameters at {{Infobox Biography}} are adequate; that's a matter for that template's talk page.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  14:23, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Sounds good SMcCandlish, thanks for taking the time, much appreciated. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 14:32, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
I don't think "spouse" should be changed to "widow(er)". We expect all of our subjects (and their partners) to die at one time or another, and we don't have to write everything from the point of view of here and now. When a person has passed away, we say who that person's spouse was, when they were alive. (I'm not sure that information necessarily belongs in the infobox in all cases, but that's another question.) W. P. Uzer (talk) 17:49, 18 August 2014 (UTC)
Hi there W. P. Uzer, my thought was only adding a new parameter not changing the current one. People sometimes remarry so they definitely will have ex-spouses but in the case where someone is deceased it somewhat seems a little more then bizarre not only to have their current spouse listed as ending when they died, when technically the relationship was not necessarily terminated, hence my recommendation for adding an extra parameter to compliment spouce, widow & widower. In a case where the person ever officially divorced they could be moved. Patrick Swayze for example, his widow Lisa Niemi, is a perfect example of where this would be appropriate. --[[User:Slave28|Slave1]] (talk) 18:31, 18 August 2014 (UTC)

You will find these details in any biography. Why on earth should Wikipedia be any different? -- Necrothesp (talk) 13:07, 4 September 2014 (UTC)

Inclusion of future job positions in infobox, list, etc.[edit]

Should future job positions be described in the infobox, lists of people with that job, succession boxes, and so forth? Or should they only be described in article prose?


This dispute has to do with the appointment of Catholic bishops, but I am seeking a wider consensus, because in over three years none has been reached, and there has been no central place to discuss it exhaustively.

In a nutshell, the problem is that appointments of bishops makes big news, and installation is not so newsworthy. But bishops retain their previous post and do not assume responsibilities of the new job upon appointment, but upon installation. So what we have is everyone changing the infobox, lists of bishops, succession boxes, and other things to indicate that new bishop has assumed his post when he has not yet done so. Contrast this with the way it is done by WP:ACTOR. An actor takes a job starring in a film, and this can be described in the article, but not placed in the filmography until the film begins principal photography. Contrast this with the President of the United States. Barack Obama was elected first in November, 2008 but did not assume his duties until the Inauguration of January, 2009. I have verified that the infoboxes were not changed, some lists were updated but it was made abundantly clear with italics and so forth that he was President-elect and not yet President.

So I am asking for consistency, please. Either change the way everything else is done or change the way episcopal appointments are handled to have it line up with the way we already do everything else. Thank you for your consideration. Elizium23 (talk) 18:03, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

A couple of thoughts from my experiences. I have been through a couple of interregnums of bishops and they are not as black and white as you make them out to be. First of all bishops rarely succeed each other the way presidents do. Presidential succession is instantaneous, more like a monarch, than a bishop. We know who will become president should the president become permanently incapacitated or after the Electoral College has met. While I have not done a comprehensive study on this, there are numerous presidential and constitutional scholars (and others) who say a person becomes president at a particular point in time and not when the oath of office is administered. In other words, LBJ took over the presidency when JFK died not when the oath was administered on board Air Force One. This also came up last year when the constitutional Inauguration Day fell on Sunday. There were many who said Obama did not need to swear the oath twice (the formal inauguration ceremony is traditionally not held on Sunday) because he automatically becomes president at noon on January 20th regardless of when the oath of office is administered. They held the swearing-in ceremony at the prescribed time in the White Hose just in case. I realize all this is debatable, but my larger point is that there is a particular point in time when a person becomes president regardless of the circumstances and ceremony. The only time that happens with a Catholic bishop is when there is a coadjutor bishop with the right to succession. While there is no prescribed date or time, the coadjutor automatically takes over the see when the previous bishop dies or when his resignation is accepted by the pope. There is also no installation ceremony. A coadjutor bishop is welcomed, but not installed. (Of course, he is also ordained a bishop at that time if not already a bishop.)
Most episcopal successions do not happen that way. The previous bishop either dies, is appointed to a different position, his resignation is accepted, or he is declared incompetent for any one (or more) of a variety of reasons. This results in an interregnum which lasts for an undeterminable amount of time until a successor is named and put in place. (Although since John Paul II resignations are generally not accepted until a successor has been named so the interregnum is of a determined length of time in that instance.) Once a bishop is named to a diocese, and it is publically announced, he is by and large in charge. He is regularly consulted as to decisions that have to be made although most decisions can be delayed until he is installed and can give his undivided attention to the matters of the diocese. Some decisions he, or anyone else, are forbidden to make by canon and/or civil law until he is installed. This is more common sense than anything. Bishops who are corporate souls tend to take over that responsibility before their ceremonial installation. It could be a difference in time of several minutes to about a day, but generally not longer than that so there is not a huge time difference. Priests who are named bishop may also start wearing certain elements of episcopal attire such as the zucchetto and I believe the pectoral cross. However, they cannot wear the mitre, the ring or carry a crosier unless they are abbots. So while they may not formally be a bishop, or yet installed depending on the circumstances, they are acting the part. The Rite of Ordination of a Bishop, or the Rite of Installation, should not be viewed as a magic act either- now you aren't now you are.
All this is a process. It is a bit like the Eucharist Prayer. The western church feels the need to determine the exact moment the bread and wine are transformed, namely the Institution Narrative, while the eastern church (and the orthodox) view the whole prayer as consecratory and they don't want to single out an exact moment. That's part of the reason why I say it's not as black and white. It is also instructive that the Diocese of Wichita claims James O'Reilly as its first bishop even though he died before he was consecrated. He is placed at the head of the list on the diocesan Wikipedia page as well.
In many cases there are differences between dioceses and those called to be bishop and the particular circumstances of their appointment. It's also important to note that the Roman mindset tends to be less legalistic in these matters than the American mindset. In general, Toledo, Ohio is no longer considered an open see because Pope Francis named Bishop Daniel Thomas as its bishop this week.
Wikipedia is a resource and not a legal document. I don't think its necessary to get tied up in the minutia, especially when the minutia is firmly in the grey areas and not in the black and white. If someone is announced as the new bishop of a diocese I believe he can be listed as such and placed in an infobox with the appropriate notation of his status. All of this can be easily changed on the day of his ordination and/or installation. God knows why, but I generally follow these things and, all things being equal, can make the necessary changes in a reasonable amount of time. I suspect a few others are the same. That's the beauty of this resource. Doing so is not so much the crystal ball-gazing that you accuse others of doing. These things are already determined and the process of becoming the diocesan bishop has begun before anyone even thinks of editing a Wikipedia page. (I guess that was more than a couple of thoughts.) Farragutful (talk) 19:24, 29 August 2014 (UTC)
There are legitimate technical issues about when a bishop become the bishop - but I prefer to look at things from a casual user's perspective. I can easily understand how someone can hear a passing reference to a bishop change in their local area and then consult Wikipedia for more information. In the case of a newly named bishop, that means, imo, the information regarding the recent change should be prominent in the article. The exact wording and format can be discussed, but information on the change should be added as soon as possible.Dcheney (talk) 04:27, 30 August 2014 (UTC)
Of course the information should be prominent in the prose, I am not disputing that. The fact is that many, many other WP:BLPs do not put future jobs in infoboxes, lists, etc. and this bishops case is an outlier. I'm asking for consistency or some explanation and consensus about why it simply must be done differently. Elizium23 (talk) 00:43, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
  • We can take the lead from how sources discuss these things. If it's really the case that there's extensive coverage of appointments rather than installations, then appointments deserve mention in articles - and in infoboxes too. bobrayner (talk) 17:13, 30 August 2014 (UTC)
Of course appointments must be mentioned in articles. There's no dispute about that. Now, how can we mention future events in infoboxes without cluttering and confusing them? This article is an example of my work after the last ANI thread regarding this dispute. As you can see it is cluttered and silly-looking with both present and future jobs in the infobox. I feel it is pretty much stupid to do it this way but that was the suggestion. Are you supporting that proposal? How would you change that particular article? Elizium23 (talk) 00:41, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
I am sorry. I did not mean to characterize the proposals here as silly or stupid. I should clarify what I mean by this. The current status quo is to strip out all the old information and put the new in. This is deleting sourced, verifiable and true information and replacing it with factual errors. This is what must be stopped without question. Now if the proposal can be made to modify the infoboxes, so that the current and future information can coexist there, that is something I can support, with reservations. I have reservations only because it isn't really done anywhere else on Wikipedia. I am not sure why Catholic bishops have to be special-cased. But anyway, I will go ahead and modify the relevant infobox template(s) with future job fields and we can see how that works out as more appointments roll in. Agreed? Elizium23 (talk) 01:07, 31 August 2014 (UTC)
His Eminence
Cardinal Archbishop of Berlin (installed)
Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne (appointed)
  • Comment My understanding of the subject is somewhat limited, but I'd like to point out that when we state that a new bishop was appointed, we're not referring to "future events," we're referring to a past event, i.e. the bishop's appointment, and I believe that such an appointment is indeed important enough to warrant its inclusion into all relevant infoboxes. On a similar note, the word "future" as used in the Christian leader infobox in the article discussed at AN/I rubs me the wrong way as it implies we know for a fact the appointee will assume office. I'd suggest replacing current/future with installed/appointed. Iaritmioawp (talk) 04:40, 4 September 2014 (UTC)
  • Rejecting this proposal. It is indeed a future event, as an appointment does not confer the rights and obligations of a particular office. Only installation does that; it is a future job and the labeling of "(installed)" and "(appointed)" only serves to increase confusion among a readership who is mostly ignorant of the particulars (as can be demonstrated by all the editors themselves who are ignorant) so I am afraid I will have to stick to (future) and (current) in my proposal. Elizium23 (talk) 03:02, 19 September 2014 (UTC)

Inclusion of trivial information?[edit]

For a content guideline page, precious little guidance is given other than naming protocols. Nowhere, e.g., does it say what information, even if sourced, is sufficiently transient or trivial to be excluded from a biography. For example, what the subject eats or not, what they do with their pet, what teams he/she supports, what they claim to do in their spare time, etc., especially when these have no connection with the subject's notability. These items, which would never be found in a proper biography but would be found in teen magazines, make biographies look haphazard or purely veneer. Ought there be guidance on such content? Carlossuarez46 (talk) 22:47, 11 September 2014 (UTC)

If by "proper biography" you mean those in book form, then I think much such information would indeed be included. It would tend not to be included in traditional encyclopedia entries, but Wikipedia is not a traditional encyclopedia - it has practically unlimited space, for one thing. W. P. Uzer (talk) 06:42, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
Unfortunately, the openness of WP means that fanboys and fangirls get to edit their idols' articles and fill them with unencyclopaedic cruft. Of course material of such great (un)import should be removed on sight. Just because WP is not a "traditional" encyclopaedia is no excuse for allowing it, but I'd say its widespread existence is better explained by the fact that Wikipedia is a work in progress. Usually, the more editor traffic a bio gets, the less there is of this tidbits, because experienced editors know what is or isn't appropriate. It might take time as there is no deadline, if it's not defamatory or otherwise offensive. This may be covered not by style guidelines such as these, but by content guidelines: WP:TRIVIA, WP:NOT, WP:UNDUE. -- Ohc ¡digame! 07:02, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
Unfortunately, WP:TRIVIA addresses lists not such stuff as "In October 2012, Cosgrove's pet poodle, Pearl, died from kidney failure at age 14..." and "Cosgrove bought a three-bedroom, 2,900-square-foot (270 m2), 1952 traditional-style house for $2.65 million." (Miranda Cosgrove) Would we put even consider writing about every Corgi the Queen has lost at what age, and what from, and how each affecter her or the square footage and price tag of Albert Einstein's or Jesse Jackson's house? This is an encyclopedia not a collection of anything gossipy about everyone of recent vintage. I think this MOS would be the place to put such style guideline in place. Carlossuarez46 (talk) 17:05, 12 September 2014 (UTC)
So how do you propose defining, for the purposes of a guideline, what does and does not belong in Wikipedia? Remembering there is also the other side of the coin - some editors are prone to take arrogant and poorly considered decisions to cull information that they personally don't find interesting or "encyclopedic" (whatever that means), not realizing or caring that certain groups of readers may in fact be interested in that information. And that the kind of information that's insignificant in one person's biography may be of more significance or interest in another's. Looking at the article you refer to, I don't see anything out of place about the statements that you refer to - the poodle appears to have been a significant part of her life (unlike any individual corgi of the Queen's), and the house gives some idea of her level of wealth and what she does with it. It's not as if this kind of thing is dominating her article and making it harder for readers to find any other kinds of information (though there are some other articles where it might have reached that level) - it simply helps to make a more rounded biography for readers with a genuine interest in that person (a group to which I suspect none of us here belong). W. P. Uzer (talk) 18:37, 12 September 2014 (UTC)

Miss X[edit]

Regarding women who were only known as "Miss X": do we follow the sources or do we follow WP:SURNAME? For example, I came across an article on Helen Hooven Santmyer from the mid-80s, where the author not only exclusively uses "Miss Santmyer", emphasizes at the beginning that one does not refer to her as "Santmyer". Would we say that this is part of the self-designation exception to MOS:IDENTITY? (The article is a stub, the only reference to her by name after the lede is "Helen".)

I note that policy is flexible on this. For example, in the Mrs. Patrick Campbell article, she is usually referred to as "Campbell" (the use of "Mrs. Pat" is really just a nickname). Catherine Booth is usually referred to as "Catherine Booth", and Mary Todd Lincoln is usually referred to as Mrs. Lincoln. In each of these cases, one has clarity of reference issues if just the last name is used, and in each case, the editors have made a choice that works. (And I note that no discussion seems to have ever been made.)

In the case of "Miss Santmyer", the "Miss" isn't needed for clarity, so these three are not really analogous. Choor monster (talk) 18:00, 18 September 2014 (UTC)

Do we need to use title? GiantSnowman 19:24, 18 September 2014 (UTC)
No. My question is in the first paragraph. The point of the second paragraph is to illustrate different examples. Choor monster (talk) 19:12, 19 September 2014 (UTC)