Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Biographies

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"WP:NAMES" redirects here. For names of articles, see Wikipedia:Article titles. For usernames, see Wikipedia:Username.

This page sets out guidelines for achieving visual and textual consistency in biographical articles and in biographical information in other articles; such consistency allows Wikipedia to be used more easily.

See also: Wikipedia:WikiProject Biography and Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons.

Opening paragraph[edit]


MOS guidelines for lead paragraphs should generally be followed; the opening paragraph should establish notability, neutrally describe the person, and provide context. The opening paragraph should usually have:

  1. Name(s) and title(s), if any (see, for instance, also Wikipedia:Naming conventions (royalty and nobility));
  2. Dates of birth and death, if known (but for dates of birth see WP:BLPPRIVACY, which takes precedence); for how to write these dates, see Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Dates and numbers#Dates of birth and death;
  3. Context (location or nationality);
    1. In most modern-day cases this will mean the country of which the person is a citizen, national or permanent resident, or if notable mainly for past events, the country where the person was a citizen, national or permanent resident when the person became notable.
    2. Ethnicity, religion, or sexuality should generally not be in the lead unless it is relevant to the subject's notability. Similarly, previous nationalities or the country of birth should not be mentioned in the opening sentence unless they are relevant to the subject's notability.
  4. The notable positions the person held, activities they took part in or roles they played;
  5. Why the person is notable.

For example:


Birth and death dates are important to the person being described, but if they are also mentioned in the body, the vital year range (in brackets after the person's full name) may be sufficient to provide context. Birth and death places, if known, should be mentioned in the body of the article, and in the lead if relevant to the person's notability, but they should not be mentioned in the opening brackets of the lead sentence alongside the birth and death dates.

The notable position(s) or role(s) the person held should usually be stated in the opening paragraph. However, avoid overloading the lead sentence with various sundry roles; instead, emphasize what made the person notable. Incidental and non-notable roles (i.e. activities that are not integral to the person's notability) should usually not be mentioned in the lead paragraph.


First mention[edit]


While the article title should generally be the name by which the subject is most commonly known, the subject's full name, if known, should be given in the lead sentence (including middle names, if known, or middle initials). Many cultures have a tradition of not using the full name of a person in everyday reference, but the article should start with the complete version. For example:

In some cases, subjects have legally changed their names at some point after birth. In these cases the birth name should be given as well:

  • (from Jack Benny): Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky, February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974) ...
  • (from Bill Clinton): William Jefferson Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III, August 19, 1946) ...

In the case of transgender and non-binary people, birth names should be included in the lead sentence only if the person was notable prior to coming out. One can introduce the name with either "born" or "formerly":

  • (from Laverne Cox, not notable prior to coming out) Laverne Cox (born May 29) ...
  • (from Chelsea Manning, notable prior to coming out) Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning, December 17, 1987) ...

Maiden names[edit]

It is common to give the maiden or birth family name (last name, surname) of a woman better known under her married name, for example:

  • Lucy Washington (née Payne, 1772?–1846), widow of Major George Steptoe Washington…

An alternative form, Lucy (Payne) Washington, is also widely accepted.

A woman should be referred to by her most commonly used name, which will not necessarily include her husband's surname.

Changed names[edit]

If a person is named in an article in which they are not the subject, they should be referred to by the name they were using at the time of the mention rather than a name they may have used before or after the mention. However, see MOS:IDENTITY.

Child named for parent or predecessor[edit]


Editors may use or omit a comma before Jr/Jr./Jnr or Sr/Sr./Snr (Martin Luther King, Jr.; George Formby Sr) so long as each article is internally consistent. If a comma is used before, then a comma should also be placed after Jr/Jr./Jnr or Sr/Sr./Snr if the sentence continues (John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was an American financer and philanthropist; Christy O'Connor Jnr was an Irish professional golfer).

Do not place a comma before a Roman numeral designation (Otis D. Wright II, not Otis D. Wright, II).

Pseudonyms, stage names and common names[edit]

For people who are best known by a pseudonym, the legal name should usually appear first in the article, followed closely by the pseudonym. Follow this practice even if the article itself is titled with the pseudonym:

  • Louis Bert Lindley Jr. (June 29, 1919 – December 8, 1983), better known by the stage name Slim Pickens ...

Investigation may sometimes be needed to determine whether a subject known usually by a pseudonym has actually changed their legal name to match. Reginald Kenneth Dwight formally changed his name to Elton Hercules John early in his musical career. Where this is not the case, and where the subject uses a popular form of their name in everyday life, then care must be taken to avoid implying that a person who does not generally use all their forenames or who uses a familiar form has actually changed their name. Do not write, for example "John Edwards (born Johnny Reid Edwards, June 10, 1953) ...". It is not always necessary to spell out why the article title and lead paragraph give a different name.

Royal surnames[edit]

Most royal families do not have surnames. Many that do have different personal surnames from the name of their royal house. For example, different members of the House of Windsor have a range of surnames: Windsor, Mountbatten-Windsor, etc., and senior royals do not normally use a surname at all. Similarly, the House of Habsburg is different from the surnames of some members of the Habsburg/Habsburg-Lorraine family.

Incorporate surnames in the opening line of an article, if they are known, and if they are in normal use. But do not automatically presume that a name of a royal family is the personal surname of its members. In many cases it is not. For visual clarity, articles on royalty should begin with the form "{royal title} {name} {ordinal if appropriate} (full name – including surname if known, except for monarchs)" with the full name unformatted and the rest in bold (3 apostrophes). In practice, this means for example an article on Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf should begin "Carl XVI Gustaf (Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus)". Using this format displays the most important information clearly without an unattractive excess of formatting. Other information on royal titles should be listed where appropriate in chronological order.

Academic titles[edit]

"WP:CREDENTIALS" redirects here. For the use of credentials by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:There is no credential policy.

Academic and professional titles (such as "Doctor" or "Professor") should not be used. Verifiable facts about how the person attained such titles should be included in the article text instead. In cases where the person is widely known by a pseudonym or stage name containing such a title (whether earned or not), it may be included in the pseudonym as described above (e.g. Ruth Westheimer, better known as Dr. Ruth ...). Post-nominal letters indicating academic degrees (including honorary degrees) should not be included following the subject's name in the first line (although they may occasionally be used in articles where the person with the degree is not the subject, to clarify their qualifications).

For example:

Post-nominal letters[edit]


Post-nominal letters, other than those denoting academic degrees, should be included when they are issued by a country or widely recognizable organization with which the subject has been closely associated. Honors issued by other entities may be mentioned in the article, but should generally be omitted from the lead.

Writers should remember that the meaning of the most obvious (to them) post-nominal initials will not be obvious to some readers. When post-nominal initials are used the meaning should be readily available to the reader. This is most easily done using the {{post-nominals}} template or with a piped link to an article with the appropriate title thus:

  • '''Joe Bloggs''', [[Victoria Cross|VC]]    gives    Joe Bloggs, VC
  • '''Jack Brabham''', [[Officer of the Order of the British Empire|OBE]]    gives    Jack Brabham, OBE

ensuring that readers who hover over the initials see the expanded abbreviation as a hint and in the status bar at the bottom of the window. Editors should recognise that there is an accessibility issue with relying on such cues as readers may be using touch-sensitive devices or assistive technology that does not utilize mouse cursor hovering. Readers who click immediately on the link, missing hints, ought to arrive at a short article with the definition clear and near the start.

In special cases where an individual (e.g. Charles, Prince of Wales) holds a large number of post-nominal letters, or seldom uses their post-nominal letters (for instance because they hold a much "higher" style), that individual should be considered exempt from this practice – that is to say, post-nominal letters should be omitted from the lead and included elsewhere.

Note that post-nominal initials signifying honours awarded by the United Kingdom (e.g. KCB, CBE) may be used as soon as they are gazetted. Investiture is not necessary.


Honorific prefixes[edit]

In general, styles and honorifics should not be included in front of the name, but may be discussed in the article. In particular, this applies to:

There are some exceptions:

  • Where an honorific is so commonly attached to a name that the name is rarely found in English reliable sources without it, it should be included. For example, the honorific may be included for "Father Coughlin" (currently at Charles Coughlin) and Mother Teresa.
  • Where a female historical figure is consistently referred to using the name of her husband and her birth name is unknown. For example, an honorific may be used for "Mrs. Alfred Jones".
  • The prenominals Sir, Dame, Lord and Lady are discussed in the "Honorific Titles" section below. Honorary knights and dames are not entitled to "Sir" or "Dame", only the post-nominal letters.
  • In Burmese names, honorifics may be preserved if they are part of the normal form of address, even for ordinary people. See U Thant for an example.

The inclusion of some honorific prefixes and styles is controversial. See Wikipedia:Naming conventions (royalty and nobility) for use in article titles.

Honorific titles[edit]

The honorific titles Sir, Dame, Lord and Lady are included in the initial reference and infobox heading for the subject of a biographical article, but are optional after that. The title is placed in bold in the first use of the name. Except for the initial reference and infobox, do not add honorific titles to existing instances of a person's name where they are absent, because doing so implies that the existing version is incorrect (similar in spirit to the guideline on British vs. U.S. English spelling). Similarly, honorific titles should not be deleted when they are used throughout an article unless there is consensus. Where the use of an honorific title is widely misunderstood, this can be mentioned in the article; see, for example, Bob Geldof. Honorific titles used with forenames only (such as "Sir Elton", "Sir David", "Dame Judi") suggest an unencyclopedic level of familiarity with the person and should be avoided unless this form is so heavily preferred in popular usage that the use of the surname alone would render the entire name unrecognizable.

Note that titles signifying honours awarded by the United Kingdom (i.e. Sir, Dame) may be used as soon as they are gazetted. Investiture is not necessary.

Subsequent use[edit]

"Wikipedia:Surname" redirects here. For surname-article issues, see Wikipedia:WikiProject Anthroponymy.

After the initial mention of any name, the person should generally be referred to by surname only, without an honorific prefix such as "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", or "Ms", or by a pronoun. For example:

Fred Smith was a cubist painter in the 15th century. He moved to Genoa, where he met singer Jane Doe. Smith and Doe later married.

However, where a person does not have a surname but a patronymic (like many Icelanders, some Mongols, and those historical persons who are known by names-and-patronymics instead of surnames) then the proper form of reference is usually the given name. (See also Country-specific usage below.) For example:

Iceland's Prime Minister is Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Jóhanna was elected to the Althing in 1978.

The person may be referred to by given name in the case of royalty, or as "Prince John", "Princess Jane", "the Duke", "the Earl", "the Duchess", "the Countess", etc. For other subjects, it is preferable to refer to the person by surname. The use of the given name gives the impression that the writer knows the subject personally, which is not relevant – even if true.

A member of the nobility may be referred to by title if that form of address would have been the customary way to refer to him or her; for example Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, may become "the Earl of Leicester" or just "Leicester" in subsequent mentions. Be careful not to give someone a title too soon; for example, one should use "Robert Dudley" or "Dudley" when describing events before his elevation to the peerage in 1564.

People who are best known by a pseudonym should be subsequently referred to by their pseudonymous surnames, unless they do not include a recognizable surname in the pseudonym (e.g. Sting, Snoop Dogg, the Edge), in which case the whole pseudonym is used. For people well known by one-word names, nicknames or pseudonyms, but who often also use their legal names professionally (e.g. musician/actors André Benjamin, Jennifer Lopez; doctor/broadcaster Dr. Drew Pinsky), use the legal surname. Otherwise, their mononym is to be used (e.g. Aaliyah, Selena, Usher, and Madonna).

For people with academic or professional titles, subsequent uses of names should omit them. For example, use "Asimov", "Hawking", and "Westheimer"; not "Dr. Asimov", "Professor Hawking", or "Dr. Ruth".

Country-specific usage[edit]

  • Burmese names are personal names that consist of one or more words, with no patronymic or surname. Always use the full form of the person's name. See WP:BURMESE.
  • Eritrean and Ethiopian people are almost always referred to by their given name as they do not have a family name. There are some rare exceptions to this: where the person—usually a member of the later generations of the Eritrean diaspora or Ethiopian diaspora—has adopted the patronymic as a formal family name. Consider placing: {{Habesha name}}
  • In Southeast Asia, many people use only a personal name, which may be followed by a patronymic; they should be referred to by their personal name.
  • Mongolian people are referred to by their given name, with their patronymic placed in front of it, usually in genitive case. There are no family names. More details in Mongolian name and WP:MON, consider placing {{Mongolian name}}.
  • Thai people are often referred to by their first name (i.e. given name) without a family name, even in formal situations. Hence, on second and subsequent mentions, they should be referred to by their first name.
  • In Vietnam, given names also have the priority over family names. The given name, not the surname, should be used to refer to the person. However, note that the given name is always placed after the family name, following the East Asian naming scheme, even when translated to European languages.

Also see WP:SUR on the proper sorting of these names.

People with the same surname[edit]


To distinguish between people with the same surname in the same article or page, use given names or complete names to refer to each of the people upon first mention. For subsequent uses, refer to the people by given names for clarity and brevity. When referring to the person who is the subject of the article, use just the surname unless the reference is part of a list of family members or if use of the surname alone will be confusing.

Source citations, bibliographies, and in-text attributions usually include names of authors and others. Consider them when checking for people with the same surname. While citations and bibliographies should use full names even in subsequent mentions (if full names are the style for citations and bibliographies in the article), the body of an article should not unless confusion could result.

For example, in the text of an article on Ronald Reagan:

Correct: Ronald and Nancy Reagan arrived separately; Ronald by helicopter and Nancy by car.
Correct: The Reagans arrived separately; Ronald by helicopter and Nancy by car.
Incorrect:    Ronald and Nancy Reagan arrived separately; Ronald Reagan by helicopter and Nancy Reagan by car.

In the text of an article about the Brothers Grimm:

Correct: Jacob Grimm was 14 months older than his brother, Wilhelm.
Incorrect:    Jacob Grimm was 14 months older than his brother, Wilhelm Grimm.

If an article about Jane Doe has attributions to books by Bob Doe and Will Doe, subsequent mentions will need given or full names.

If an article mentions both Andrea Dworkin and Ronald Dworkin, who are unrelated but might be in the same article because he wrote about her work, for subsequent mentions it would usually be correct to refer to them by full names or sometimes by given names.

Names confused with common words and well-known single names[edit]

Some names look like common words that are usually capitalized or like well-known single names. Subsequent mentions of those full names should be with given or full names. Examples include religious words and names (e.g., Lord, Christ, Moses, and Mohammed [the last with various spellings]).

Occupation titles[edit]


When used to describe the occupation, apply lower case; such as: (De Gaulle was a French president; Louis XVI was a French king; Three prime ministers attended the conference).

When used as part of a person's title, begin such words with a capital letter (President Obama, not president Obama). Standard or commonly used names of an office are treated as proper nouns (The British Prime Minister is David Cameron; Hirohito was Emperor of Japan; Louis XVI was King of France). Royal styles are capitalized (Her Majesty; His Highness); exceptions may apply for particular offices.


Biographies of living persons should generally be written in the present tense, and biographies of deceased persons in the past tense. When making the change upon the death of a subject, the entire article should be reviewed for consistency. If a person is living but has retired, use "is a former" or "is a retired" rather than the past tense "was".

CorrectJohn Smith (1946–2003) was a baseball pitcher ...
CorrectJohn Smith (born 1946) is a former baseball pitcher ...
IncorrectJohn Smith (born 1946) was a baseball pitcher ...

Historical events should be written in the past tense in all biographies:

  • Smith played for the Baltimore Orioles between 1968 and 1972 ...

When discussing the work of a writer or philosopher, even if they are dead, the present tense may be used: "In Calvin's Institutes he teaches ...".[1] The general rule is to describe statements made in literature, philosophy and art in the eternal present.

Out-of-date material[edit]

It is best to avoid time-dependent statements, which can often be creatively rewritten anyway. When making any statements about current events, use the "As of" template; for example, "as of April 2011" or "in April 2011". If you're giving a precise date range from the past to the present, as with a living person's age or career, you may use the "Age" template. The article subject's age can also be calculated in the infobox.

There is no need to add "deceased" to a person's article, or those in which they are mentioned. If they have their own article, this should already be sourced. Otherwise, it is unnecessary.


Care should be taken to avoid placing undue weight on aspects of sexuality.

Authority control[edit]

See also: Wikipedia:ORCID

Place {{Authority control}} at the foot of biographies (immediately above {{DEFAULTSORT}}, if present). Add authority control identifiers (VIAF, ISNI, ORCID, etc) in the subject's Wikidata entry, from where they will be automatically transcluded into the template.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How (and Why) Do I Write in Literary Present Tense?" (PDF). Writing Studio. Vanderbilt University. 17 July 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 

External links[edit]