Wikipedia:Naming conventions/Ethno-cultural labels in biographies

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See discussion on Portal:Russia/Russia-related Wikipedia notice board#Nationality in biographies

What is all the policy about?[edit]

When we write a biographical article we usually have a first line like this:

XX is a YY-an somebody (writer, painter, politician, human rights activist)...

We also put the XX into some national category like Category:YY-an somebodies. Usually it is quite obvious what the YY should be, but quite often it is not. In the second case we are bound to have a heated discussion or even a revert war between the different groups of POV holders. It is much better to have a uniform well-defined policy, that would prevent the edit wars. The policy is not about the definition of the anthropological things like ethnicity, nationality, cultural identity, but about a practical question of the Wikipedia style.

What is wrong with just using the ethnicity for the labels?[edit]

Firstly it implies some sort of double loyalty that may be a case of an extreme POV. Madeleine Albright is not a Jewish-Czech politician, she is an American politician, Zbigniew Brzezinski is not a Polish political scientist, Noam Chomsky is not a Jewish Political activist, Bill Clinton is not an Irish politician, Joseph Conrad is not a Polish writer, etc.

What is wrong with using citizenship for the label?[edit]

Usually there is nothing wrong with it; indeed this is the most widespread method for labeling biographies. On the other hand, many countries in the past controlled other nations, who would find deeply offensive if we would label their most distinguished people by the Imperial labels. E.g. Adam Mickiewicz is a Polish poet, not a Russian poet or Belorussian poet despite been a citizen of Russian empire born on the territory of current Belarus.

There is also a question of emigration Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin lived half of his life in France, but wrote his books in Russian, so he is a Russian not French writer.

What is wrong with the transferring the labels from the sources, after all we do not do original research, do we?[edit]

There are different sources pushing different POVs, many nationalists compiling lists of people "belonging to their culture" often using questionable sources, e.g. claiming Alexander Pushkin to be an Ethiopian poet and Sergei Rachmaninoff to be a Tatarian composer. The question of labels is usually not about the facts but about the uniform presentation of the facts, so it is a question of style, not of the research. All the facts of course should be sourced.


As it was highlighted above, there are actually two questions:

We want to be more inclusive with the answers for the first question (trying to have all the possible appropriate categories) and less inclusive with the second question due to the readability problems.

The policy varies for different categories of people

Writers, Actors and other people of the language[edit]

Usually the question is simple, whatever language they used for their notable works it is their label. Mikhail Bulgakov - is a Russian writer, Ivan Franko is Ukrainian, Sholom Aleichem is a Yiddish writer, Vladimir Nabokov is a Russian and American writer etc.

It is more complicated if different nations share the same language, e.g. English language, Spanish language, etc. In that case we take into account:

  • Usage of the local dialects and variants
  • Cultural context - who were the teachers, friends and followers of the writer
  • Where the major works of the writer were written.

E.g Walter Scott is Scottish not an English writer, since he widely used the Scottish variant of English and his major works were written in Scotland.

Rulers, Government Officials and Generals[edit]

Whatever state they ruled or served is their label. Catherine II was a Russian Empress, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim is a Finnish politician and Russian general, Ivan Skoropadsky is a Ukrainian Hetman,etc, Bill Clinton is an American politician.

Painters, Musicians, Scientists[edit]

This is the most complicated case

I can think of the following criteria:

  1. Citizenship, if the person was not involved into the independence movement
  2. Place of birth
  3. Place of the professional education
  4. Places where notable works were produced
  5. Support for or opposition to independence/annexation
  6. Language used at home/for publications/memoirs/essays

I propose that if at least one of criteria is met, than the corresponding Category may appear, if an editor requests it, for the place on the first line at least two criteria should be met.


Ilya Yefimovich Repin:

  1. Russian
  2. Ukrainian
  3. Russian
  4. Russia, Finland(?)
  5. none
  6. Russian
Resume: First line - Russian (maybe Ukrainian-born Russian) painter, Category: Russian painters, Ukrainian painters and, arguably, Finnish painters

Leonhard Euler

  1. German
  2. German
  3. German
  4. Russia (most), Germany (some)
  5. none
  6. German,
Resume: First line - German mathematician working in Russia and Prussia, Category: German mathematicians, Russian mathematicians

David Burliuk

  1. Russian, Ukrainian
  2. Ukrainian
  3. Russian
  4. Ukrainian, Russian
  5. Ukrainian
  6. Ukrainian,Russian
Resume First line - Ukrainian and Russian (arguably) painter. He should be put into both categories.


If there is an appropriate label that avoids the question of the national label (e.g. Soviet for any nationality of the Soviet Union, British for every nationality of Great Britain, Latinoamerican for all the nationalities of the South and Central America) then the hedging label should be used in the first line of problematic cases. E.g. Joseph Conrad is a British writer, not an English writer.

In very difficult cases we can avoid all national labels on the first line.

Persecuted for the ethnicity or cultural heritage[edit]

If a nation persecuted somebody for their ethnicity or cultural heritage, then it forfeits the rights to claim him or her as its own. Taras Shevchenko is not a Russian and Ukrainian painter, but only Ukrainian painter, Albert Einstein was not a German physicist, etc.


The national label does not prevent us from specifying the ethnic origin if it is relevant. We could put the ancestory either in in the first line (say of Jewish origin) or in the first line of the biography (usually the second line of a bio-article) was born to a Jewish family, or to a Russian-German family or to a Russian noble family of Tatar origin.

Exemptions - avoid the ethnic references if they are controversial or not recognized by the subject of the bio. Lets not measure other people's skulls.

Exemption to the exemption - in Nazi Germany and similar cases, the ethnicity might be still relevant, even if the subject of the bio did not recognize it.


Take care with linking of the labels in the first line. In the phrase "Nikolai Gogol was a Russian writer", avoid linking the label Russian to Russia or Russian, but link to the Russian language or List of Russian authors, since Gogol was of Ukrainian descent and had grown up in Ukraine.