|This essay is not a Wikipedia policy or guideline; it is intended to be an explanatory supplement to the Wikipedia:Naming conventions page.|
|This page in a nutshell: Common names are generally preferred to official names as article names. There are few exceptions; these are documented in the Specific-topic naming conventions.|
People often assume that, where an official name exists for the subject of a Wikipedia article, that name is ipso facto the correct title for the article, and that if the article is under another title then it should be moved. In many cases this is contrary to Wikipedia practice and policy.
Article titles should be recognizable to readers, unambiguous, and consistent with usage in reliable English-language sources. In many cases, the official name will be the best choice to fit these criteria. However, in many other cases, it will not be.
The article title policy later reads Wikipedia does not necessarily use the subject's "official" name as an article title (emphasis added).
Purpose of this page
It is particularly intended for new editors, who cannot be expected to have read all the policies and guidelines, and indeed are encouraged to be bold and edit without needing to do so.
It should contain nothing that has not been previously agreed and documented in official policies and guidelines. It should of course also be entirely consistent with these.
Valid use of official names
Official English names are candidates for what to call an article, because somebody presumably uses them. They should always be considered as possibilities, but should be used only if they are actually the name most commonly used.
Official names used only in other languages often have no relevance at all. English usage overrides usage in other languages, so other languages would chiefly become relevant if the topic had never been described or discussed in English prior to the writing of the Wikipedia article; in which case, we should consider whether the subject is notable enough for an article. (It may well be.) Of course, that's not to say we should slavishly follow English sources either: there are cases where English usage is erratic or hasn't decided on a convention, and going back to a Latin-script original name will simplify things (For example, Les Tuniques Bleues had a video game adaptation that was translated into English as "North and South", but anyone looking for the comic likely wouldn't recognize that name).
There are a few subject areas in which the most common names for the articles are usually ambiguous. (For example, both Henry IV of England and Henry IV of France are commonly called Henry IV.) In such cases, a systematic use of unambiguous but predictable names has been encouraged. Even these minor deviations from the use of common names should be done carefully and with limited scope, to avoid controversy.
- Wikipedia:Naming conventions (royalty and nobility)
- Wikipedia:Naming conventions (geographic names)#United States
- Wikipedia:Naming conventions (political parties)
The preference for common names avoids several problems with official names:
- Obscurity. Some official names are never used except in legal or other esoteric documents, or for theatrical effect.
- Competing authorities. In some cases, an article subject may have several competing names, all of them in some sense official.
- Changes to names. Official names may be changed at any time, at the whim of the authority concerned. Common names change more slowly, reducing the maintenance required to keep them accurate and current.
Some types of article suffer more from each of these problems than others. Geographical names rarely suffer from frequent changes, but may suffer from several competing authorities, particularly in disputed and/or historically significant territories. Official names of unreleased games may change several times within a week, but there is only one authority, the vendor. Common drugs such as aspirin typically have official names (2-acetyloxybenzoic acid in the case of aspirin) that are sufficiently obscure as to be completely unknown and unrecognisable to the vast majority of their users. Official names of sponsored sports teams, tournaments and venues change whenever a sponsorship agreement begins or ends.
Using common names also reflects the general trend away from linguistic prescription that has been prominent since the mid-twentieth century. We use English as we find it. Trying to improve the consistency of English may be a laudable thing (or not), but Wikipedia is not the place to do it.
Where there is an official name that is not the article title
Where an undisputed official name exists:
- It should always be provided early in an article's introduction, bolded at its first mention and, where appropriate, italicised. See Wikipedia:Lead section.
- If the official name differs from the article name, then there should be a redirect from the official name to the article. See Wikipedia:Redirect.
Disputed, previous or historic official names should also be represented as redirects, and similarly introduced in the article introduction unless there are many of them, or they are relatively obscure, in which case:
- The alternative name should be mentioned early (normally in the first sentence) in an appropriate section of the article.
- The redirect should point to this section.
- Wikipedia:Article titles § Common names, the official policy on preferring common names.
- Wikipedia:Naming conventions (geographic names), the detailed naming convention page on geographical names.
- Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Trademarks, the manual of style page on trademarks.
- Wikipedia:Correct, another essay, this time on the more general issue