Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Proper names

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Proper names are names of persons, places, or certain special things. In English, these are typically capitalized nouns or noun phrases. Such names are frequently a source of conflict between editors from different backgrounds, especially in cases where different cultures, using different names, "claim" someone or something as their own. Wikipedia does not seek to judge such rival claims, but as a general rule uses the name which is likely to be most familiar to readers of English. Alternative names are often given in parentheses for greater clarity and fuller information.

For information on the use of proper names as article titles, see Wikipedia:Article titles. See also Wikipedia:Use English.


Foreign proper names written in languages which use the Latin alphabet can include characters with diacritics, ligatures and others that are not commonly used in present-day English. Wikipedia normally retains these special characters, except where there is a well-established English spelling that replaces them with English standard letters. For example, the name of the article on Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős is spelt with the double acute accent, and the alternative spellings Paul Erdös and Paul Erdos redirect to that article. Similarly the name of the article on the Nordic god Ægir is so spelt, with redirects from the ligature-free form Aegir and the Swedish spelling Ägir. However, the the Spanish region named Aragón in Spanish is given as Aragon, without the accent, as this is the established English name.

Peoples and their languages

Where a common name exists in English for both a people and their language, that term is preferred, as in Swahili people and Swahili language rather than Waswahili and Kiswahili.

Personal names

Personal names are the names given to people, but can be used as well for some animals (like race horses) and natural or man-made inanimate objects (like ships and geological formations). As proper nouns, these names are almost always first-letter capitalized. Exceptions are made when the lowercase variant has received regular and established use in reliable third party sources. In these cases, the name is still capitalized when at the beginning of a sentence, per the normal rules of English.

Most recent personal names have but one correct spelling,[dubious ] although presentation (use of initials, middle names, nicknames, etc.) can vary and still be correct. In these cases, it is best to use a recognizable form. The most complete name should appear at the beginning of the article to provide maximum information. Inclusion of middle names or initials when they are widely known, can be a useful form of disambiguation if there is more than one person known by that name. This can be particularly useful in disambiguating family members with very similar names (e.g., George W. Bush, George P. Bush, George H. W. Bush). However, if the person is conventionally known by only their first and last names and disambiguation is not required, any middle names should be omitted.

Names from history are less certain as to spelling, for a variety of reasons, but the further back one goes the less particular societies were about exact spellings, so variations are more likely to exist. Experts in specific fields of history should provide input to decisions where these must be made or a controversy arises. A readily accessible and authoritative source for the accepted name of a person who has written books, or who has been written about, is the U.S. Library of Congress Authorities database, which provides the accepted name and variant names used by the British Library, the National Library of Canada, and other English language libraries. Redirect pages can insure that all variants lead to the desired article.

Place names

Geographical or place names are the nouns we use to refer to specific places and geographic features. These names most often give rise to conflict, because the same places are called different things by different peoples speaking different languages.

This is an English-language encyclopedia, so established English names are preferred if they exist, and spellings in non-English alphabets should always be transcribed into the Roman alphabet. In general, other articles should refer to places by the names which are used in the articles on those places, according to the rules described at Wikipedia:Naming conventions (geographic names). If a different name is appropriate in a given historical or other context, then that may be used instead, although it is normal to follow the first occurrence of such a name with the standard modern name in parentheses.

At the start of an article, provide notable equivalent names from other languages, including transcriptions where necessary:

Cologne (German: Köln, IPA: [kœln]) is the …
Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san, IPA: [ɸuʥisaɴ]) is the …

Names in languages with no particular present-day or historical ties to the place in question (English excepted, of course) should not be listed as alternatives.

Many place names have a historical context that should be preserved, but common sense should prevail. There can be few places that have not been parts of more than one culture or have had only one name. An article about Junipero Serra should say he lived in Alta Mexico not the U.S. state of California because the latter entity did not exist at the time of Junipero Serra. The Romans invaded Gaul, not France, and Thabo Mbeki was the president of the Republic of South Africa, not of the Cape Colony. To be clear, you may sometimes need to mention the current name of the area (for example "in what is now France"), especially if no English name exists for that area in the relevant historical period.

See also

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