Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Biographies

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RfC: Expanding the permissiveness around ethnicity or sexuality[edit]

The following discussion is an archived record of a request for comment. Please do not modify it. No further edits should be made to this discussion. A summary of the conclusions reached follows.
The proposal was rejected. --GRuban (talk) 20:30, 10 June 2015 (UTC)

So, WP:OPENPARA currently states that "Ethnicity or sexuality should not generally be emphasized in the opening 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." This feels highly reductionist and very limited. It's possible for somebody to be notable, generally, and their ethnicity or sexuality to be a prominent contextual element for understanding their work.

A good example of this is artists; there are a lot of artists who have an ethnicity and a nationality; say, Chinese-American or African-American. Their ethnicity is not part of their notability: they are notable as artists. But it is important in understanding the context in which they work. When you have an artist who is a first generation Chinese-American and their work is centred on that identity...sure, they're notable without it. But it's pretty much impossible to understand the work they do, or why they do it, or what it refers to, without also understanding their background.

I'd like to propose amending the guidelines around the opening paragraph, specifically, changing:

Ethnicity or sexuality should not generally be emphasized in the opening 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.


Ethnicity or sexuality should not generally be emphasized in the opening unless it is relevant to the subject's notability, 'or provides important context to understanding the subject or their work. Similarly, previous nationalities or the country of birth should not be mentioned in the opening sentence unless they meet the same standard.

Bolding for the diff (I don't plan to have random bold text in guidelines ;p). Thoughts? Ironholds (talk) 19:44, 3 April 2015 (UTC)

Agree and support. Certainly there is a tightrope Wikipedia walks, in terms of over-emphasizing ethnic heritage, so prudence is warranted. But often there seems to be a disingenuous de-emphasis, on the well-intentioned assumption that "it ought not to matter" when, in some contexts, it does. When the contextualized importance of ethnicity is well attested in respected, reliable sources yet omitted or downplayed here, it can have the un-intended effect of minimizing a historical or cultural milestone, e.g. the elections of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama as the first black (in the latter case, by U.S. definition) presidents of nations with records of recent legal racial discrimination. It comes across as a glaring, almost suspicious omission and, more importantly, deprives readers unfamiliar with the subject of the ability to readily learn and understand a significant factor in the person's notability. FactStraight (talk) 20:59, 3 April 2015 (UTC)
@FactStraight: Good to hear it's not just me who finds this problematic! Think I should start an RfC, orrr..? Ironholds (talk) 16:21, 5 April 2015 (UTC)
With notification to the Ethnic groups, Discrimination and any other relevant or potentially interested Wikipedia:WikiProjects, yes! FactStraight (talk) 08:19, 7 April 2015 (UTC)
The intention was always to include ethnicity for articles like Nelson Mandela, but not for all biographical articles. Part of the difficulty is that emphasizing ethnicity is not always an unalloyed good, as when for example we have an article on a controversial or criminal figure, and their ethnicity has sometimes been emphasized in the past for no clear reason.--Pharos (talk) 16:10, 14 April 2015 (UTC)

Oppose and counterproposal. Isn't the real problem here with the use of the word "notability"? Notability has a very specific meaning here and is actually a fairly mechanical concept only affecting inclusion or exclusion from the encyclopedia. We don't evaluate significance or importance to determine notability, we look for multiple reliable sources. That makes this standard, frankly, nonsense. If "notability" were replaced with "overall importance or significance," then it wouldn't seem to me that we would need to invite rule creep by adding the proposed qualification. I would note that the current formulation has been here (in reference to ethnicity, sexuality was added later) since this edit by @Pharos in 2006, whose edit comment refers to this discussion on the talk page, in which Pharos' comment before making the edit was, "It's not official anywhere, but it's I think this is the general consensus of the very long discussions above. Exceptions would be in cases where someone's ethnicity was exceptionally tied to their significance; e.g. some minority rights activists and ethnically-focused artists. Since the issue comes up so often, perhaps we should establish a simple guideline on ethnicity for the fromt side of this page." (Diff, emphasis added.) Perhaps Pharos will respond here and say why he chose "notability" over "significance" in the actual edit. Since I spend most of my time doing dispute resolution, I'm really afraid that the proposed addition is going to provide an excuse to open up a furball of contentious claims between warring ethnic and national groups and have to wonder if the current reductionist formulation wasn't designed to avoid that. Best regards, TransporterMan (TALK) 15:36, 14 April 2015 (UTC)

This was the original intention that I had back in 2006, to reduce the type of edit-warring that sometimes comes up, for example, in Eastern European articles.--Pharos (talk) 16:10, 14 April 2015 (UTC)
The problem with "importance" is, well - what if it's nothing to do with their importance, but is necessary context to their work? Jayron's comments below are excellent. Ironholds (talk) 14:29, 15 April 2015 (UTC)
I think if we're going to discuss changing this, we really need to hammer down the language so we're including highly relevant information in lead paragraphs where appropriate, and excluding such information where not. Just a few examples I can think of off hand:
  • Compare Jackie Robinson to, say, Dave Winfield, two African-American baseball players. Consider the men's relation to baseball's color line. Jackie Robinson's biography rightly mentions his ethnicity in context because to entirely omit it would seem out of place. Dave Winfield's biography doesn't mention his ethnicity, also quite rightly, because while he is African American, his ethnicity is not a major part of his narrative.
  • Compare Harvey Fierstein to Neil Patrick Harris, which I think probably gets it a bit wrong. Both are openly gay actors, but Fierstein's professional career is built upon his semi-autobiographical accounts of life as a gay actor. To minimize the importance of his sexuality to his professional career and public life is to ignore a major facet of his biography. Neil Patrick Harris, on the other hand, while he is openly and publicly gay, has not made his sexuality a major portion of his professional career the way Fierstein has. Fiersteins art is in many ways centered on the life of a gay man in America. Harris's, much less so. The fact that the lead of Harris biography has made his sexuality more prominent than Fierstein makes them both WP:UNDUE in opposite directions: It's more of a central issue to Fierstein's biography and less of one to Harris's.
This is not to downplay the real impact of ethnicity and sexuality (and related issues of identity) to these men's lives as a whole. I'm certain Winfield is quite aware that he's African-American, and I'm certain it is important to him. Likewise, Harris is very publicly and openly gay, and to deny that being "gay" is not important to Harris would be stupid. But that's not the same thing as saying these facts are central issues in the men's biographies. I think if we're to rewrite policy here, we need to indicate in some way the difference between "Every person's ethnicity and sexuality and other identity features must be featured prominently in the lead", which is ludicrous, and "No one should ever mention it ever", which is also ludicrous. I'm not sure how to solve the problem directly, but wanted to capture the realness of the issue. This is at least how I read it, and the issue before us is finding the appropriate middle road that results in well-written biographies. --Jayron32 23:44, 14 April 2015 (UTC)
I pretty much completely agree with Jayron's analysis here too, and this is the same thinking that I had tried to use in originally wording the "relevant to the subject's notability" standard. This doesn't mean that this aspect of personal identity must be essential to the subject's work, just that it is relevant to it in a major way. For example, I could imagine that if we are writing on the hypothetical artist mentioned, and it is possible to back up with WP:RS that "a major theme of her work is her Chinese American identity", then certainly that should belong in the intro. The key should be that it is introduced in a sentence that actively shows its relevance, it's not just "X is a Chinese American artist". But aspects of personal identity wouldn't be emphasized in the intro if art critics, etc, have not considered it a major theme of that particular artist, while the information would still be covered in a family or personal life section.--Pharos (talk) 00:20, 16 April 2015 (UTC)
Remember what the leading paragraph and the introductory section is. It is a summary and introduction to what follows in the article proper. If ethnicity and sexuality are a very important part of an individuals identity, that it forms a significant part of the article proper, then it should also form a significant part of the lead. If it is not mentioned at all in the article proper then it probably belongs in the infobox but not in the lead. Greater or lesser significance of anything in the lead section should reflect the weight it is given in the article proper.--KTo288 (talk) 13:37, 15 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose, there is no need to emphasize the ethnicity or the sexuality of the subject unless there is significant weight from a multitude of reliable sources that emphasize the subjects ethnicity or sexuality as the primary reason why they are notable. This is usually the case for those who have made a notable first. Therefore, the subject's sexuality and/or ethnicity need not be in the lead sentence. Perhaps elsewhere in the lead paragraph if reliable sources give it weight, but not the lead sentence.--RightCowLeftCoast (talk) 04:33, 16 April 2015 (UTC)
    Okay. Why? You've made an argument for a standard for inclusion, not an argument for why that standard for inclusion is the right one. Ironholds (talk) 14:29, 16 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose - it seems redundant. Understanding the subject's work really has to do with notability - and if they are notable for being, say, an American artist, then it will say that, if they are just notable for being an artist, then it should say that. — kikichugirl oh hello! 08:49, 19 April 2015 (UTC)
    @Kikichugirl: Except that's not how it's being interpreted by people. I started this discussion precisely because the person immediately above you in this section decided that readers would not find any additional context in the fact that an artist from Oakland who exclusively worked on Filipino-American cultural divides and elements was Filipino-American. Someone can be a notable artist as a result of making works influenced by their cultural background, and not be "notable for their cultural background", which is what you seem to be suggesting the solution would be. Pharos says, above, that when he drafted this section my point was precisely what he meant, but there's clearly some ambiguity or we wouldn't be having this discussion. So all this is really doing is more clearly stating the status quo. Ironholds (talk) 19:48, 19 April 2015 (UTC)
  • I don't know. I see the point that the original proposer is making and it's a fair point. Jayron32 has a good analysis and makes his point well. The problem, as Pharos points out, is that we also need to "reduce the type of edit-warring that sometimes comes up, for example, in Eastern European articles". Tell me about it! You are always going to have editors who are just really really really excited to make sure that for every article subject who has a touch of Macedonian blood or (or whatever... not to pick on on Macedonians, applies equally to many ethnic groups), this is put front and center in the lede for the reader to admire and ponder over. And then you have [historical figure who died in 1123 or whatever]... it's just really really really important for the reader to understand that his paternal grandmother was Herzegovinian and not Montenegrin, and this need to be in the lede or whatever. And so on. I exaggerate, but not much. And this is why we can't have nice things, like the nice and subtle contextual distinctions that Jayron32 expounds on. But maybe with the right wording this could be a go. Herostratus (talk) 12:53, 19 April 2015 (UTC)
    Yeah, that's why it's "necessary to context"; if you can convince the other editors it's necessary context, great! If not, not so much. But the status quo opens us up for problems in completely the other direction - essentially, whitewashing a lot of culture because we've decided someone's passport summarises their cultural or racial identity. Ironholds (talk) 19:48, 19 April 2015 (UTC)
    I'm not sure I agree with all the specific wording changes suggested, but I do hope that this recent discussion has established that the relevant to the subject's notability. standard is not (and never was) just about "firsts", and I hope this can be considered clarified through general agreement here. The intention was always that these aspects of personal identity be treated pretty much as described in Jayron's examples.--Pharos (talk) 20:03, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
    @Pharos: what? No; that's not why we have policy. We have policy because a wider audience than "people who showed up to have an opinion in the right discussion at the right time" might, over time, care about the outcome. If you want to clarify it, suggest an amendment or endorse an existing suggestion - ideally one that removes the word "notability", which has a very specific meaning. Ironholds (talk) 20:22, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
    I'm not convinced it's terribly unclear now (I think it has worked in most cases), but if we're looking at potential replacements, I would perhaps suggest something like "reliable sources support this as a major topic of the article" or "as part of a sourced statement establishing the context of their importance".--Pharos (talk) 21:11, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
    The fact that I opened this discussion because it wasn't working doesn't indicate to you that it doesn't work? "Reliable sources consider this a major part of the subject's identity"? Ironholds (talk) 23:29, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
All this discussion and not a single reference to the WP:EGRS guide, even though it deals with categories, it is where the issue is actually fleshed it much more detail and nuance than the simplistic "summary" in WP:OPENPARA. -- Roger (Dodger67) (talk) 20:22, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
This is a good point! (although the category context is indeed a bit different)--Pharos (talk) 21:11, 22 April 2015 (UTC)
IMHO I think the present guideline is "working" in a great majority of cases. If there is a debate/content dispute about it, that is why there is that article's talk page. Let consensus be formed there. No need to instruction creep, or to make less clear edit to the established guideline thus making it more difficult.--RightCowLeftCoast (talk) 00:44, 23 April 2015 (UTC)
@RightCowLeftCoast: if it's "working", could you explain why you're precisely the person I had to bring this case because? You personally deciding the status quo works for you when you're the reason I'm trying to change it is not, actually, tremendously informative. Ironholds (talk) 23:14, 23 April 2015 (UTC)
@Ironholds: don't get personal, see WP:AVOIDYOU.
Yes this is my opinion of it, and compared to the thousands of active Wikipedians, there are very few who have found an issue with the guideline as it stands. Furthermore, any change, would need more consensus than the few Wikipedians presently involved.
The article in question, there was a wide difference, and there remains a wide difference, as to opinion as to the subject's ethnicity being central to their notability. As others have pointed out this leads to unnecessary content disputes when different ethnicities attempt to claim that individual as soley their own. Loosening the guideline as it stands will lead to more unnecessary content disputes. Furthermore, IMHO it is the burden of those who want to emphasize a subjects ethnicity and or sexuality in the lead sentence. If an editor, or group of editors, show that reliable sources give the subject's ethnicity or sexuality as central to their notability, than they can seek consensus to invoke IAR. Otherwise, we have these guidelines to reduce the likelihood of content dispute in this regards, as there is an established consensus against emphasis of subject's ethnicity and or sexuality.
Sometimes, emphasis is necessary. Sometimes, emphasis is useful. Do you acknowledge that "notability" as used in this guideline is a lot wider than, say, the GNG? Because that's what I'm reading from, say, Pharos's comments, and the fact that I keep having to ask questions like this is why I want to change the wording - notability is a term of art with a very specific meaning, and that meaning is not what is meant here. Ironholds (talk) 09:52, 24 April 2015 (UTC)
May I suggest that we use the word "Noteworthiness" rather than "Notability" (since the term Notability has a defined meaning on Wikipedia). Blueboar (talk) 12:37, 24 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose. "...provides important context to understanding the subject or their work" is too vague and subjective and is just likely to create disputes. Moreover, I think the OP fails to make the case for a change being needed. We deal with the hypothetical artist whose work is all about their ancestry by describing their work in the article. That's adequate and nothing is gained from also pigeon-holing them. Formerip (talk) 19:29, 24 April 2015 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the debate. Please do not modify it. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

Lead section[edit]

I'm wondering why the MOS has a section called "Opening paragraph" (singular) instead of "Lead section". But my main question is this: I've seen several bio articles where most of the lead is basically a listing of awards and nominations given to the person. Is that really what an intro section should be like? --Musdan77 (talk) 02:26, 27 May 2015 (UTC)

Because the opening paragraph is different from a lead section. A lead section may have multiple paragraphs. --Jayron32 02:39, 27 May 2015 (UTC)
We would need to see examples to make a determination. Most Wikipedia articles are deficient in various ways, the lead section included. Resolute 19:31, 27 May 2015 (UTC)
Jayron32, how is "the opening paragraph different from a lead section", when it's in the lead section? And if the first paragraph is so different from the following paragraphs, then it should also say what should be in those following paragraphs in the lead. --Musdan77 (talk) 18:28, 29 May 2015 (UTC)
Because there are certain things, and a certain organization, expected specifically of the opening paragraph specifically. Other paragraphs in the lead exist where needed in longer articles. --Jayron32 23:08, 29 May 2015 (UTC)
But, the MOS doesn't say that -- and that's (in part) why I brought this up. If that's how a lead section should be then it should say that. --Musdan77 (talk) 18:27, 30 May 2015 (UTC)


I suggest to insert the following phrase, or similar, into the section Post-nominal letters before the words "ensuring that readers".

or by using the template {{Post-nominals}},

I also suggest to remove the line "See also" at the beginning of this section because a) referring to 'Middle names and abbreviated names', its relevance in this section is unclear; b) the target section doesn't exist under that name. Lastly, the meaning of the sentence "(See above in regard to academic titles and post-nominal initials.)" is unclear and it should be removed. -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 23:36, 30 May 2015 (UTC)

@Michael Bednarek: See my revisions in light of your comments above. I'm not sure about the "See also" hatnote: I've updated the link, but it can be deleted unless someone can explain the relevance to this section. sroc 💬 11:59, 31 May 2015 (UTC)

NOTICE: Persondata has been officially deprecated[edit]

Persondata has been deprecated and the template and input data are subject to removal from all bio articles in the near future. For those editors who entered accurate data into the persondata templates of biography subjects, you are advised to manually transfer that data to Wikidata before the impending mass deletion occurs in order to preserve all accurate data. Here are two examples of Wikidata for film actors: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you have any more questions about the persondata removal, Wikidata, etc., please ping me. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 13:57, 3 June 2015 (UTC)

"… advised to manually transfer that data …' – That's the most pointless/impractical advice I've read in a long time.
For convenience: {{Persondata}}, Wikipedia talk:Persondata#RfC: Should Persondata template be deprecated and methodically removed from articles?, and Wikipedia:Village pump (proposals)/Archive 122#RfC: Should Persondata template be deprecated and methodically removed from articles?. -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 02:16, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
@Michael Bednarek: While it is certainly helpful to link to the discussions underlying the decision to deprecate persondata, so that folks may understand why we are switching to the better Wikidata system, everyone needs to understand that accurate data that they previously entered into persondata templates is at risk of being lost in that process, name variants such as married names, maiden names, and full names in particular. Over the last five years, I have added persondata to over 2000 bio articles. And as "impractical" as it may be, I am manually transferring that data to Wikidata so that it is not simply deleted when the persondata templates are removed by bot edits in the near future. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 10:22, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
I understood what you wrote and I admire your zest to retain the work you did by transferring it to Wikidata, but I suspect not many editors have a way of following up on years of occasionally improving Persondata details. My spontaneous comment above was driven by my concern that the non-unanimous decision to deprecate might have unintended consequences. -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 10:46, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
Michael, I think we both wish that the engineers of this transition were committed to preserving more of the accurate information currently found in the persondata templates. The two or three editors leading the charge for immediate removal of persondata from all articles seem to put very little value on the past work of their fellow editors in contributing to persondata over the last five or six years. There should be a reasonable period of "deprecation," with editors given plenty of notice and ample opportunity to transfer data from the old to the new system. In the mean time, the continued presence of persondata does no harm. The rush to delete is unseemly and ill-considered, and seems to be based on biased information regarding the "unreliability" of existing persondata datapoints. Given the wiki-politics, I'm doing what I can to preserve the accurate persondata of articles on my watch list by transferring it to Wikidata, and advising others who care to take similar steps. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 11:12, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
Thumbs up Couldn't have said it better. -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 11:36, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
You may want to share your opinion regarding a reasonable transition period in some of the following threads:
Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 12:04, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
The decision may have been (like many on Wikipedia) non-unanimous, but it still had strong consensus. The issues have been long and knowledgeably discussed and the consequences well-considered, both here and on Wikdiata. Andy Mabbett (Pigsonthewing); Talk to Andy; Andy's edits 18:20, 4 June 2015 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── @Pigsonthewing: Apparently no updated data in the persondata templates has been pulled by the bots since at least November 2014. It is unclear whether newly entered data has been added or not in the eight months since then, or whether the bots have simply ignored updated datapoints. It is apparent that the issues have not been long and knowledgeably discussed because in manually transferring over the persondata from over 150 articles in the last two days, I can substantiate that many items of accurate data have not been previously transferred by bot action to Wikidata, including full names and other name variants, birth places, and all "brief descriptions" updated since November 2014. It's more than enough to raise doubts about whether these issues have "been long and knowledgeably discussed and the consequences well-considered." I'm happy to share details of my review. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 19:40, 4 June 2015 (UTC)

Jeez. I wonder what the actual point of failure is?  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  13:00, 20 July 2015 (UTC)

Placement of a nickname in the full name[edit]

There are no clear guidelines for when a nickname is supposed to be placed within the full name as opposed to being mentioned separately afterwards, e.g. (using listed examples from the article itself) William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton vs. David Drew Pinsky, nicknamed "Dr. Drew". Can this be addressed? MarqFJA87 (talk) 15:49, 6 June 2015 (UTC)

  • This has always been one of the formatting eccentricities of Wikipedia bios, in contravention to the manner in which pretty much every other serious encyclopedia or biographical compilation lists full names of subjects. William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is mildly off-putting; David Drew "Dr. Drew" Pinsky is redundant and repetitive. The silliness of this practice is even more apparent in cases such as Michael "Mike" Smith and Jennifer "Jenny" Jones, wherein the included nickname is the most common diminutive form of the subject's given/first/Christian name, and especially so where the nickname is included in the article's title and infobox. it gets even messier for women when we attempt to insert their nickname in the middle of their maiden name or married name, confusing readers as to what the subject's full name actually is. There may be circumstances where including the "quoted" nickname in the statement of the subject's full name is appropriate, but more often than not, it is unnecessary, redundant, inaccurate and confusing. It would be far better to adopt the following practice:
  • William Jefferson Clinton, born William Jefferson Blythe III, and commonly known as Bill Clinton, . . .
  • George Herman Ruth, Jr., commonly known as Babe Ruth, and nicknamed the Bambino and the Sultan of Swat, . . .
  • Elizabeth Ann Ford, née Elizabeth Ann Bloomer, and commonly known as Betty Ford, . . .
  • David Drew Pinsky, commonly known as Dr. Drew, . . .
Inserting the "quoted" nickname in the middle of the subject's full name, as if it were an actual part of the subject's full name, is a sloppy practice and far too casual for an encyclopedia that should be written in relatively formal style and encyclopedic tone. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 16:17, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
I absolutely agree. This insertion of nicknames was never something that tended to be done on Wikipedia until fairly recently when we had an outbreak of it and now many seem to think it's established practice. It isn't and it shouldn't be. -- Necrothesp (talk) 17:09, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
Yes. I want to give very strong support to the view that any nickname, or common name variant, should be given separately from the subject's full name. It looks very casual to have the nickname placed inside the full name and it's also confusing - it can be unclear whether the nickname is actually part of the formal name. I think this is a topic on which the Manual of Style should give firm guidance. Sam Blacketer (talk) 17:37, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
You guys raise quite a few good points. I should note, however, that the insertion of the nickname in quotes into the subject's full name (typically right before their surname) is something that I've seen being used a lot outside Wikipedia, so it doesn't appear to be a unique phenomenon to it. That said... What now? MarqFJA87 (talk) 01:28, 9 June 2015 (UTC)
Yes it is very common in informal writing. Perhaps it is not so common in writing at the level of formality thart Wikipedia aims for. Personaly i woulkd linit it to cases where the nickname is by far the most common way in which the person is known, and it does not duplicate an element of the full name (so yes to "Bill Clinton", but no to "Dr Drew"). But it may be simpler to ahve a clear bright line rule of never do this. DES (talk) 01:33, 9 June 2015 (UTC)
  • A lot depends on how sources typically present the name. For someone like Babe Ruth... sources often write his full name with the familiar nickname included... as: "George Herman "Babe" Ruth For someone else they may not... using either the nickname of the more formal name. Ultimately how we write it comes down to consensus... and consensus is notorious for being inconsistent. This may not be something we can or should write a firm "rule" about... It may be something that has to be determined on a subject specific (article by article) basis. Blueboar (talk) 02:44, 9 June 2015 (UTC)
  • @Blueboar: Unfortunately, a lot of editors seem to think this practice represents project-wide consensus, leading them to insert a lot of the really egregiously redundant examples, like Michael "Mike" Smith for an article entitled "Mike Smith". I know that several WikiProjects, including WP:Golf and WP:Swimming, tend to strive for the common nicknames in the article title per WP:COMMONNAME, have a specific infobox parameter for "nickname," and therefore frown on the insertion of common diminutives in the bolded full name in the lead. Perhaps they should adopt express WikiProject-level guidance on point, and simply refer editors to such consensus. Clearly, there is no explicit MOS-level consensus on point, despite the misperceptions of some editors.
I would like to see the MOS provisions tweaked to clarify that there are several acceptable alternatives for dealing with the nicknames of subjects of our biographical articles, and perhaps two or three additional examples added regarding the treatment of nicknames and other name variants. We also really need clarification and several good examples of how we should deal with the married names of women subjects, especially for those women who have used multiple married name variants over time. I have yet to find good, consistent advice on this latter point. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 14:30, 10 June 2015 (UTC)
I've definitely been guilty of the "Michael "Mike" Smith"-type useage, whereas something like "Michael John Smith, commonly known as Mike Smith" is much more appropriate and in-line with WP:OPENPARA. GiantSnowman 15:44, 10 June 2015 (UTC)
It used to be standard procedure here that recording an obvious diminutive at all when the article title reflected that diminutive was completely unnecessary. When did that common sense consensus change, I wonder? -- Necrothesp (talk) 16:13, 10 June 2015 (UTC)
I have seen past discussions on this very page where editors verhemently defended the Michael "Mike" Smith silliness in the name of consistency and Wikipedia having "its own style," intentionally different from Britannica, World Book, and any other encyclopedia or biographical dictionary. I think the way to tackle this problem, without imposing some new mandatory format, is to add several additional examples of the accepted treatment of common nicknames in the lead sentence of bio articles. If I had my way, we would also include specific guidance that it is unnecessary to insert obvious and commonly understood dimunitive and short-form nicknames, including, but not limited to Al, Alex, Allie, Andy, Angie, Annie, Art/Arty, Barb/Barbie, Becky, Beth/Betty/Libby/Liz/Liza, Ben/Benjie, Bev, Bill/Billy, Bob/Bobby/Rob/Robby, Brad, Cat/Cathy, Charlie/Chuck, Chris, Chrissy/Christy, Cindy/Cyndy, Dan/Danny, Dave/Davey, Debbie/Debby, Dick/Rich/Rick, Don/Donnie, Ed/Eddie, Fran/Franny, Frank, Fred/Freddy, Jeff, Gene, Geoff, Greg, Jan, Jen/Jenny, Jess/Jessie, Jim/Jimmy, Joe/Joey, Kathy/Katie/Katy, Ken/Kenny, Larry, Marty, Matt, Max, Mike, Nate, Nick/Nickie, Niki, Mitch, Pat, Pete, Phil, Randy, Reggie, Ron/Ronny, Sam, Steve, Sid/Syd, Sue/Susie/Suzie, Teri, Terry, Tom/Tommy, Tony, Vicky, Walt/Wally, Will/Willy. I'm sure I missed plenty, but I think that's a representative list in common Australian, British, Canadian and American usage. If any of those names are included in the article title, they really don't need to be restated in the lead at all. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 17:15, 10 June 2015 (UTC)
First, we need to distinguish between how we format the article title and how we format the running text. For the article title, we follow source usage (see WP:COMMONNAME). If a significant majority of sources use a nickname when discussing the subject of an article, our policy is that the nickname is used in our title. The example used in our WP:AT policy is Bill Clinton not William Clinton (nor William "Bill" Clinton). On the other hand, should the majority of sources routinely use the full name... or with a mix (such as giving the nickname in quotes)... we would follow the sources and use that format as our article title.
Now... for the running text we don't have a set policy... we can be more flexible and use common sense. Every article should mention the subjects full (formal) name somewhere in the lede paragraph (it's important information)... and if the subject has a nickname that should also be mentioned in the lede as well (it is also useful information). However, There is no need for every article to use the same styling format when doing this. Let article writers have the freedom to write in the style of prose they find most pleasing. If two writers disagree, let them discuss it on the article talk page and encourage them to find common ground. Blueboar (talk) 22:24, 10 June 2015 (UTC)
@Blueboar: There's no need to belabor the WP:COMMONNAME guidance; we're already on the same page 100%. The article titles are always going to be "Bill Clinton" and "Babe Ruth," because those are the names for which the majority of our readers know to search.
To restate the premise, the question is how we deal with nicknames? Currently the sum total of MOS:BIO guidance on nicknames is embodied in a single example, William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton; MOS:LEAD provides a second example, Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn, Jr.. Given the only two nickname examples provided by MOS, it's not outrageous for some of our more formulaic gnomers to assume that those examples represent exclusive consensus how to deal with nicknames in the lead, when in fact they do not. This needs to be clarified, so that we are not stuck with the silly Michael "Mike" Smith redundancies. I think the best way to accomplish that is with additional MOS examples of nicknames in the lead, as well as additional examples of other name variants, like women's married and maiden names. What do you think? Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 03:00, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
I think this is something the MOS should not try to dictate... attempting to have any consistent "rule" about nicknames is overkill. There is no need to have a consistent format on nicknames. What is appropriate will depend on the subject of the article, and consensus of editors working on the article.
Personally I prefer to have nicknames presented in a parenthetical... as in:
  • William Jefferson Clinton (more commonly known as Bill Clinton) is..." or
  • William Joseph Donovan (nicknamed "Wild Bill" Donovan) was..."
I think that reads better. However, that's simply my own personal preference... and I can accept that other editors might have a different preference. If I really disliked the way a specific opening sentence is written, I would go to the talk page, discuss it, and reach a consensus.
So... to answer the question: How do we deal with nicknames? On a case by case basis... through discussion and article level consensus. Blueboar (talk) 13:52, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
@Blueboar: Let's be crystal clear: I am not arguing for a single mandatory formula for how we state nicknames in the article lead. Exactly the opposite in fact; I am arguing against a very common misinterpretation of the only two MOS examples of nicknames in the lead as the sole and obligatory way in which is to present them, which leads to the silly Michael "Mike" Smith-type redundancies. I want to make it perfectly clear that there is more than one acceptable way to state commonly used nicknames in the lead, including those examples I provided above.
Regarding the tangential issue you raise: putting the nicknames in parentheticals is problematic because it visually conflicts with the birth date/death date parenthetical. I only mention this because you did; it is tangential to the principal subject of this thread, which is that there is absolutely, positively, no consensus to require that nicknames be stated in quote marks in the middle of the subject person's full or legal name as the sole manner to present nicknames, although that way remains an option. Let us provide absolute clarity on this point by providing more examples of other acceptable ways in which nicknames may be stated in the lead. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 14:16, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
My own preference, and the one I always use, would be:
  • William Joseph Donovan (January 1, 1883 – February 8, 1959), often known as "Wild Bill" Donovan, was...
  • William Jefferson Clinton (born August 19, 1946), born William Jefferson Blythe III, is...
I always think parentheses look awkward for anything other than dates and that it's best to put additional info after the dates and not before them. It's completely unnecessary to state that William Clinton is known as Bill because (a) it's a common diminutive of William, and (b) it's in the article title. If he was usually known as Bill Clinton but occasionally as Willie Clinton instead then that would be a different matter. It would then be:
  • William Jefferson Clinton (born August 19, 1946), born William Jefferson Blythe III, usually known as Bill Clinton but sometimes also as Willie Clinton, is...
Since then we do have to state his commoner against his not so common but still common enough to be recorded diminutive. -- Necrothesp (talk) 17:40, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
I think all of those are acceptable alternatives for dealing with nicknames, Necrothesp. Obviously circumstances vary from subject to subject, and some alternatives work better than other given the particulars. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 18:11, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
Choor monster, are you asking what we should do with the "Jimbo" nickname in the lead of his article? Before answering, I would ask a question: does anyone in the mainstream media (i.e. reliable sources) actually refer to him as "Jimbo Wales"? Is his legal first name really "Jimmy," or is that a nickname for James too? Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 17:28, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
Actually, in reviewing the article, it appears that "Jimbo" is a reference to his Wikipedia username, not a nickname per se. Of course one could reasonably ask "what's the difference?" Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 17:34, 11 June 2015 (UTC)
I was being slightly sarcastic. As it is, the footnote to this source reveals that "Jimbo" is indeed a nickname. It may have originated as an on-line handle, the article doesn't say. (I was unaware that he was called "God-King" on WP; I will resist "fixing" the article to include nickname #2.) Choor monster (talk) 13:46, 12 June 2015 (UTC)
If the consensus at the article level supports Jimmy Donal "Jimbo" Wales, that's good enough for me. As for the second nickname, I'm not sure it's widely recognized enough to merit adding it to the article in any way. I try to avoid Wikipedia self-parody whenever possible, lest we descend to the level of "life imitates The Onion". Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 14:13, 12 June 2015 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Question, what do manuals of style for major publications say? NYT goes with full name, also known as nickname, format. I cannot access the Chicago Manual, which has a section on it (8.36). Christian Writer does not give a preference to within the name or after the name, but when in the name quotations are required. We should take some of our guidance from other MoSs if we are to create an essay or guideline about such a thing, as it will impact a large number of articles.--RightCowLeftCoast (talk) 03:00, 16 June 2015 (UTC)

Note that the use of nicknames (although only in relation to Bill Clinton) was added to the MOS in this edit in 2013 without discussion and is now being used to mandate mass of these pointless things to articles. I vote we remove it and stop it being used as a precedent for their addition. -- Necrothesp (talk) 11:53, 10 July 2015 (UTC)
Seconded. Sam Blacketer (talk) 14:46, 10 July 2015 (UTC)
Affirmative. That said, as I have stated above, it would be helpful to our editors to provide additional alternative options for the presentation of nicknames, maiden names, birth names and other name variants in the lead. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 16:02, 10 July 2015 (UTC)
  • I just want to ask one important question... we are only talking about how we present the name in the text of the lede sentence of the article... yes? None of this should change what is used for the article titles (which would remain governed by WP:Article titles and especially WP:COMMONNAME), nor would it have much impact on subsequent references to the person in the rest of the article text (where it may be appropriate to be a lot less formal, and just use the nickname). Blueboar (talk) 15:44, 10 July 2015 (UTC)
  • Correct, BB. But remember, standard MOS usage is to refer to the article subject solely by his or her surname and or pronouns after stating the subject's full name in the lead section. So there really should be no occasion to repeatedly refer to the subject by his or her nickname in the main body text. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 16:02, 10 July 2015 (UTC)
  • BTW, here is a perfect example where inserting the nickname into the full name may be appropriate: Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines IV; the nickname is not the common diminutive of the subject's first or middle name, and it's short enough that it does not really disrupt the statement of the full name. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from the Michael "Mike" Smith redundant nonsense. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 16:14, 13 July 2015 (UTC)
  • Personally I'd still prefer "Ambrose Gaines, IV (born February 17, 1959), known as Rowdy Gaines, is..." It looks more professional to my eye. -- Necrothesp (talk) 14:32, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
  • @Necrothesp: And I have no problem with the format you suggest above. None whatsoever. In fact, I have already used it in a number of my watch-listed articles, and it usually works far better for maiden and married names than other formats in use. My point with the "Rowdy" and "Red" examples is that the inserted-nickname format works better in certain circumstances than others. I'm not seeking to impose a new mandatory format for dealing with nicknames, but I do want to dispel the wrong-headed idea that the inserted-nickname format is required by MOS, especially when it leads to silly redundancies like Michael "Mike" Smith. I would like to see additional MOS examples of how nicknames, birth names, maiden names, married names, and other name variants may be addressed in the lead section under different circumstances (see previous examples given above). I'm going to wait for further comments for a while longer, then I am going to propose some new examples for the MOS text for further discussion on this talk page. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 15:09, 14 July 2015 (UTC)


I just reverted Necrothesp on the removal of "Bill." I don't see a problem with having "Bill" in the WP:Lead sentence, especially since it is his WP:Common name. Per WP:Alternative name, that name should be bolded in the lead somewhere; same goes for similar articles. Flyer22 (talk) 15:36, 14 July 2015 (UTC)

It's a problem because saying "William "Bill" Clinton" is stating the obvious and is completely unnecessary (it's already the title of the article), although I would have no particular problem with it being added after his dates. Please see all the discussion above and don't just revert a change that has been discussed. Thanks. -- Necrothesp (talk) 15:40, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
@Flyer22: May I suggest that you read the discussion above, which has been underway for over five weeks, and then participate in it? The problem is not the article-level consensus to use the inserted-nickname format for the lead of that particular article, but the misinterpretation of that MOS example as the mandatory treatment of all nicknames throughout Wikipedia. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 15:47, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
Necrothesp and Dirtlawyer1, I'd read the discussion before reverting. This page is on my WP:Watchlist, which is why I saw Necrothesp's edit. I don't see any problem with using "Bill" in the lead of the Bill Clinton article. I don't see any problem with including any nickname in the lead of a biographical article, as long as it is not trivial, unnecessarily offensive, and/or violating WP:BLP. Significant alternative names should usually be in the lead, per WP:Alternative name. And, of course, the article title should usually be in the lead. Necrothesp stating that including the name is "stating the obvious and is completely unnecessary" because of the article's title is like stating that we should not follow MOS:BOLDTITLE for any article title. I don't see that this guideline is mandating a style in this regard. It's a guideline, not a policy. It's simply reporting a common style seen on Wikipedia. And as for Necrothesp reverting me and stating that the content was added without discussion, it's been there since 2013. A lot of content in this guideline was added without discussion. Flyer22 (talk) 17:27, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
@Flyer22: This is not about the actual Bill Clinton article; it's about the MOS example regarding nicknames in the format of Michael "Mike" Smith, (a) which is redundant, and (b) for which there has never been a consensus to require this particular format to be used in all cases. Concerned editors are welcome to use (1) William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton, or (2) William Jefferson Clinton, commonly known as Bill Clinton, or (3) any similarly acceptable construction, based on article-level consensus among those concerned editors. But many, if not most, editors disagree with requiring that the Michael "Mike" Smith formula be used for the presentation of all nicknames throughout Wikipedia. That is what is under discussion here: the single MOS:BIO nickname example, not the Bill Clinton article. Do you believe that every nickname throughout Wikipedia should be presented in the Michael "Mike" Smith format? Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 18:42, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
Dirtlawyer1, again, this page is on my WP:Watchlist; so there is no need to WP:Ping me to it. I know that this discussion is about more than just the Bill Clinton example. I brought up the Bill Clinton example because this discussion features it and the removal of the two-year old guideline text is about it. I'm stating that I see no problem at all with cases such as the Bill Clinton example. I didn't state that "the Michael "Mike" Smith formula" should be used for the presentation of all nicknames throughout Wikipedia. I'm stating that I see no problem with that formula, and that it is a common formula. With how common it is, I don't think it's true that most Wikipedia editors, or even most experienced Wikipedia editors, have a problem with it. Flyer22 (talk) 19:15, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
No one is going to memorize your notification preferences.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  12:52, 20 July 2015 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── in this edit Necrothesp removed the "Bill" Clinton example with the summary "removed contentious edit following support and no opposition on talkpage". I said above that I thought this form was acceptable in the case of Clinton and other similar cases where the nickname is the true COMMONNAME, so there was not "no opposition". What I think we should do is not remove the Clinton example, but instead add several other examples showing the variety of acceptable forms, as has been done in this thread. That way the examples cannot be rationally taken as a mandate for a single site-wide format, as a single example might. Would others favor such a change? DES (talk) 22:08, 14 July 2015 (UTC)

  • Uh . . . Yes to more examples of the acceptable presentation of nicknames and other name variants in the lead. Dirtlawyer1 (talk) 22:37, 14 July 2015 (UTC)
  • I have no problem including an example with the Firstname "Nickname" Lastname formulation ... however, the example we include should be one that is supported by source usage... so it should be someone who is routinely referred to by sources using that formulation. Clinton was a bad example because he is rarely referred to as William "Bill" Clinton... he is usually referred to as either Bill Clinton (less formal but more common) or William Jefferson Clinton (more formal, but less common). It is rare to find the nickname in conjunction with the full formal name. Blueboar (talk) 02:02, 15 July 2015 (UTC)
  • It really should follow the modified name part when it's just a modification (unless a modification of/including the surname), and precede the surname otherwise; should use parentheses for diminutives used by the subject, quotation marks for epithets (including media-bestowed ones like "JLo" if not actually used by the subject, which would otherwise be put in parentheses if they were); aliases/pseudonyms not using the surname (or using it but changing not modifying the given names) should be given separately (Lady Gaga is never Lady Gaga Germanotta, with any markup):
  • Alexander (Al) James Calhoun
  • Alexander James (Jim) Calhoun
  • Alexander "Alexoid" James Calhoun
  • Alexander James ("Jimmy the Dude") Calhoun
  • Alexander James (AyJay) Calhoun (what the subject himself uses)
  • Alexander James "AlCal" Calhoun (a "JLo"-type epithet the subject doesn't use, and put before the surname since it abbreviates both the first and last names)
  • Alexander James Calhoun, often writing under the names Cal Xander and Alexandra J. Calhoun
In a case of use of simple initials (where including them in mid-name may confuse ('Why is wikipedia telling me "Alexander James" is abbreviated "A. J."? I'm not stupid.'), explain:
  • Alexander James Calhoun, usually credited as A. J. Calhoun
Hardly rocket science. :-)
 — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  12:52, 20 July 2015 (UTC)


One of the exceptions provides that we can use "Mrs Alfred Jones" and other Mrs situations when we don't know the woman's given name. Why doesn't this extend to men with unknown first names? When writing about historic-but-somewhat obscure houses, I often discover that my source says something like "it was bought by a man by the last name of Lastname. He lived here a long time until John Someoneelse bought it", and it's much easier to say "the original owner sold it to a Mr. Lastname. In later years, Lastname sold it to John Someoneelse". The source's usage is in line with WP:HONORIFIC, but my preferred style is simpler and conveys the fact that we don't know Mr. Lastname's first name. Nyttend (talk) 23:24, 12 July 2015 (UTC)

Seems reasonable, if the source is certain about the gender (beware assumptions; if the source says "John Someoneelse later sold it to one Jones, of Chicago" or something, we can't assume male).  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  12:58, 20 July 2015 (UTC)
Why are some personal names in Philippines-related articles (entities, organizations, etc.) prefixed with some 'honorifics' like Attorney, Architect, Engineer even though the Wikipedia's manual of style recommends using none at all, especially when taken from external sources? Santiago Claudio (talk) 09:30, 27 August 2015 (UTC)
Professions are not normally considered "Honorifics" in English... that said, it is hardly standard English to refer to someone as "Architect John Doe". So... my guess is that the usages are simply the result of poor writing by editors who do not speak English as a primary language. WP:FIXIT. If it is important to note the profession of the people being discussed, this can be done either through an appositive or a parenthetical - examples: "John Doe, a prominent architect, was elected to the board in 2013" or "In 2013, John Doe (a prominent architect) was elected to the Board" Blueboar (talk) 12:17, 27 August 2015 (UTC)
Agreed. I see this a lot in articles on topics relating to non-English-speaking countries (i.e. frequently edited by non-native English speakers); there seems to be an assumption that because official, highly specific job titles used directly with names, as in "XYZCorp Vice-president of Engineering Jane Doe", are capitalized, that every occupational reference is capitalized, e.g. "Taxi-Driver John Smith", or "Ana Gutierrez is a Make-Up Artist". It's wrong and should just be lower-cased on sight.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:31, 28 August 2015 (UTC)
I would agree... but my point was less about the capitalization of "architect" (etc) and more about the way the words are used ... in standard English, it is rare to preface someone's name with their profession (as if it were an honorific) - regardless of whether it was capitalized or not. Blueboar (talk) 13:24, 29 August 2015 (UTC)
Yeah, we don't need to do that in encyclopedic writing except for the same reason it's done in journalism, for contextual clarity, e.g. "the department consulted with architect Jane Doe and structural engineering firm MacDoe Enterprises".  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  00:34, 31 August 2015 (UTC)