Who's Who

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Who's Who (or "Who is Who") is the title of a number of reference publications, generally containing concise biographical information on the prominent people of a country. The title has been adopted as an expression meaning a group of notable persons. The oldest and best-known is the annual publication Who's Who, a reference work on contemporary prominent people in Britain published annually since 1849.

In addition to legitimate reference works, some Who's Who lists involve the selling of "memberships" in fraudulent directories that are created online or through instant publishing services.[1] Various advocacy groups,[2] universities[3] and governments[4] have published warnings of these Who's Who scams.

Notable examples by country[edit]

  • Who's Who, the oldest listing of prominent British people since 1849; people who have died since 1897 are listed in Who Was Who.
  • Cambridge Who's Who (also known as Worldwide Who's Who), a vanity publisher based in Uniondale, New York.
  • Marquis Who's Who, a series of books published since 1899 by Marquis, primarily listing prominent American people, but including Who's Who in the World.
  • Who's Who in New Zealand, twelve editions published at irregular intervals between 1908 and 1991
  • Canadian Who's Who, a listing of prominent Canadians since 1910
  • Who's Who in Switzerland, published from 1953 to 1996 and then Swiss Who's Who, a listing of prominent Swiss or leading figures living in Switzerland since 2015[5]
  • Who's Who in Australia, a listing of prominent Australians since 1923
  • Who's Who in France, a listing of prominent French or people living in France since 1953 (in French)
  • Who's Who in Scotland, a listing of prominent Scots since 1986
  • Who's Who, by Metron Publications, a listing of prominent Greeks since 1992
  • Who's Who of Southern Africa, published in paper form until 2007 when it was replaced by a website

Non-English publications[edit]

The Danish Kraks Blå Bog (1912)
The Swedish Vem är det (1969)

Some Who's Who books have a title in the language of the country concerned:

Specialised publications[edit]

Other publications and scams[edit]

The title "Who's Who" is in the public domain, and thousands of Who's Who compilations of varying scope and quality (and similar publications without the words "Who's Who") have been published by various authors and publishers. Some publications have been described as scams; they list any people likely to buy the book, or to pay for inclusion, with no criterion of genuine notability.[2] They may offer vanity awards[8] or expensive trophies.[9]

One example was the Who's Who Among American High School Students which was criticized for questionable nomination practices as well as whether the listing's entries are fact-checked and accurate.[10][11] There was no cost to be listed, but it was often categorized as a scam since it was an attempt by a private entity to profit from parents and students who purchase the book and various memorabilia associated with the publication in attempt at recognition. Students consented to being listed in the Who's Who in the hope that the listing would be seen by college admissions offices as a significant recognition of a student's academic and extracurricular involvement. However, most admissions officers believe that the recognition has no such value and in fact some consider the "honor" to be a joke.[10][12] According to the admissions vice president of Hamline University, "It's honestly something that an admissions officer typically wouldn't consider or wouldn't play into an admissions decision," adding that "Who's Who... is just trying to sell books".[11]

Who's Who scams involve the selling of "memberships" in fraudulent directories that are created online or through instant publishing services.[1] These fraudulent directories represent thinly veiled moneymaking scams.

A scam may begin with a telephone interview or online questionnaire to validate a potential target's personal information. This information can be included in the fraudulent directory, sold to other marketing firms, or used in future attacks such as phishing emails. Once the personal information has been gathered, the target is congratulated as having passed the interview and is asked to provide a credit card number to finalize the process. Upon further inquiry, the target may be told that a credit card payment is required to receive a certificate and copy of the directory.

Often these scams are promoted by recently incorporated companies. The few individuals listed in such directories often have themselves included as a marketing tactic. The result is that these directories become a simple form of vanity publishing. One known problem is that people's credentials sometimes list their online directory memberships long after such fraudulent directories disappear from the web.

There are numerous variations of these practices. In former European monarchies, publishers compile volumes listing "noblemen" (such as dukes, counts and barons) who are often little more than fantasists who paid large sums to have their names inscribed in these books. Even high school students are not immune to such ploys; for many years a now-defunct company published a Who's Who Among American High School Students which justified its activities by offering (at random) a few scholarships, usually for $200.

Who's Who publications are not all of questionable value, but publishers that select truly notable people and provide trustworthy information on them are hard to identify. A & C Black's Who's Who is the canonical example of a legitimate Who's Who reference work, being the first to use the name and establish the approach in print, publishing annually since 1849. However, the longevity of a publication is not in itself a guarantee. In 1999 Tucker Carlson said in Forbes magazine that Marquis Who's Who, founded in 1898 but no longer an independent company, had adopted practices of address harvesting as a revenue stream, undermining its claim to legitimacy as a reference work listing people of merit.[13] For a time, Forbes based 10 percent of the methodology for its America's Best Colleges list on alumni listings in Who's Who in America, the flagship title of Marquis Who's Who.[14] However, they ceased to do so by 2013, instead relying upon other lists to identify successful alumni. According to Forbes, Marquis Who's Who sells its list of biographee, optionally broken down by profession, sex, political affiliation or religion, to direct mail marketers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vernon, David (1 December 2007). "What Price Fame? Be a Very Important Person - all it takes is money" (PDF). The Skeptic. 27 (2): 16–18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 March 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b Kirchheimer, Sid. "Who's Who Directory Scams: With vanity publishers, fame and honors can cost you a small fortune". AARP.org. AARP. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  3. ^ Joe Ferguson. "Scam alert: dubious "Who's Who" publications." at UBIT news at University at Buffalo website. 7 March 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  4. ^ "Presidential Who's Who" at WA ScamNet, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Government of Western Australia. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  5. ^ "Le retour du "Who's who" suisse après vingt ans d'absence". Letemps.ch. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  6. ^ "Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur | Recherche | Biographische Datenbanken". Stiftung-aufarbeitung.de. Retrieved 2016-02-07.
  7. ^ "Kas yra kas Lietuvoje 2018". www.kasyrakas.lt.
  8. ^ Gewirtz, David (March 9, 2020). "Oh, you won an award? Don't click that vanity scam spam link". ZDNet. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  9. ^ Harris, Sheryl (January 12, 2019). "That 'Who's Who' invite aims at your ego -- and your wallet: Plain Dealing". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Yvonne Zanos: What's what with Who's Who, December 5, 2005, retrieved 2/12/07
  11. ^ a b Student Questions 'Who's Who' Directory Archived 2010-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, WCCO TV, January 3, 2006
  12. ^ "College Confidential forum thread". Collegeconfidential.com. Retrieved 2014-06-05.
  13. ^ Tucker, Carlson (8 March 1999). "The Hall of Lame". Forbes. ISSN 0015-6914. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2019. Who's Who in America ... appears to contain a lot of relatively unaccomplished people who simply nominated themselves. To make the process of self-promotion easier, Reed Elsevier, the publication's parent company and the owner of Lexis-Nexis, now has a site on the Internet where would-be biographees can complete a 'biographical data form.'
  14. ^ "Methodology". Forbes. Center for College Affordability and Productivity. 11 August 2010. ISSN 0015-6914. Archived from the original on 1 October 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2019. There are cases--relatively few in our judgment--of individuals with decidedly modest vocational achievement being included in the Who's Who volumes.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: others (link)