Wikipedia commentary/How to write non-american names

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Moved this from KQ


Hi KQ

I noticed that you changed the CAPITALIZATION of the names in the Hong Kong/Government page. Your summary also implied the CIA were making a mistake. I believe you don't understand the system. The CAPITALIZED names are the surnames. Not all cultures use surnames and family names as LAST name. It is a common practice to make it stands out from the given names. Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc. even Hungarian in Europe put family name in front of given name, so the concept of LAST name is not international. By removing the Captial letters in the names, you removed important information and hence a disservice to the encyclopedia.


This practice, while it may be common in other languages, is not at all common in English. No names are habitually capitalized; this habit is one the CIA indulges in any time they mention a person, including William CLINTON. In English, for instance, one says Bill Clinton, Pol Pot, Mei Lanfang, Andrzej Wajda, etc.; the first letters of the name are capitalized and not the rest, regardless of the country the person is from.


In formal writings include legal documents and newspaper article, surnames are often written in all caps. e.g. CLINTON, William and McDONALD, Ronald. Your argument about the uncommon usage is totally WRONG.

The common English practice is not sufficient to present foreign names in their native form. MEI Lanfang provides the information about the person's surname, so that the westerners can address the person appropriately, for example calling her Miss Mei instead of Miss Lanfang. I have read some newspapers refered to the President of China Jiang Zemin as Mr. Zemin. It is just arrogant of English speaking people to assume that the Chinese President should change his name to Zemin Jiang to fit into the English custom. The convention of writing JIANG Zemin and Bill CLINTON is simply prevent people from calling them Mr. Zemin or Mr. Bill.

As I said, the way that you removed the significant notation from the names is a disservice to the encyclopedia. Besides, the CIA are not idiots, they didn't violate the rule of English Language for no reason. I can assure you that their CAP LOCK keys were not stuck.


KQ is right. This is not standard usage. (Also I have never seen newspapers or legal documents use it. Which country or which papers do you mean?) We would have to explain it everytime we use it. It is not clear to me that MEI Langfang means Mei is the family name as often we reverse the names printed in English text.


For example, page 7B of San Jose Mercury News from San Jose, California, USA, dated Sept 12, 2001. The entire obituaries section use the SURNAME, given_name format. The CIA boys are using a convention that addresses international issues. You are just talking about how to write Bill Clinton. Please look beyond your own country!

Don't blame KQ for my entry (rmhermen) However you are trying to prove that First LAST is a format used - not LAST, First. We use foreign names in American stories frequently; however, sometimes as First Last, sometimes as Last First but not as First LAST. Does anyone besides the CIA?

I have no objection to changing Bill CLINTON to Bill Clinton, however I have strong objection to changing MEI Langfang to Mei Langfang or to Langfang Mei. I am 99% sure MEI is the family name because 1. the name sound Chinese, 2. double syllable family name is extremely rare in Chinese. Your example exactly illustrated the problem, namely, the readers have trouble identifying the family name of the person in your system. In the CIA convention, which is used as a standard now for all Chinese names, resolve the ambiguity.
For decades, Hungarian, Chinese, Japanese or Korean names were bastardized by English writers. The names are reversed and hence totally changed the identity of the persons. The trend has reversed. Nowsdays all Asian names on reputable newspaper are presented in their original order. i.e. MEI Langfang should be refered to Miss Mei.
What KQ has done inflicted the most damages to the entries. His recent changes were on the Hungarian and Chinese names which needs the CAPITALIZED surname convention most because these names has a history of reversed presentation. The capitalization clarify which presentation is being used.
It's my turn to ask you for a quote. Please quote me a newspaper that used the names Zedong Mao or Xiaping Deng. You will never find one because their names are MAO Zedong and DENG Xiaping if written properly.

You don't understand English capitalization rules. KQ and the others are right. --LMS

I rest my case. But I suggest you do some research instead of insisting on your own opinion.

No, your view is simply a non-starter to anyone sufficiently familiar with English capitalization rules. The burden's on you. --LMS

It is pointless to continue this discussion if all of you agree that you are willing to drop an important aspect of the information (i.e. the marker for the surname) to stick to a rule that does not work in a global situation. It is your choice, you all seems to be the authority who decide the policies for this Wikipedia. The CIA knows what they are doing and you don't even recognized what problem they have solved. To draw an analogy, someone decorated a Christmas tree and then you pull down all the ornaments because you only concern about how unnatural the tree has become and you refuse to think twice what those ornaments are for. What I have been asking for is that you consider why CIA is doing it that way. Do you really believe their CAP LOCK keys were stuck? Are you joking? Or are the CIA really stupid? Thank for the discussion. I have given up, CIA is not backing me up here. Deleting important information from the encyclopedia is your loss, not mine.

It's interesting to find myself on the opposite side of a debate calling for a change in the basic usage of some aspect of the English language. :-) Anyway, to answer your question, the CIA World Factbook is the only place I've ever seen using all caps in a family name. Perhaps you can provide more examples. I don't think it's at all common; it's certainly not common on websites; it's also not common on obituaries given online, though some newspapers use it in print. While the CIA may have their reasons for using all caps, I don't see the advantage of continuing the habit here. Maybe you could incorporate the explanation of naming conventions of other countries into an article on the subject; certainly it would fit on */People and I expect it wouldn't do any harm to add a reminder of that on for instance Hong Kong/Government. And, yes, it was a joke about the caps lock key. I think the CIA is generally well-informed, though they do make their factual errors like everyone else. --KQ


I just noticed this discussion, then went back to check the CIA book, and noticed that whoever noticed the practice of the CIA is right. The capitalization does add information. Just an example: Spain and latin american countries have two surnames, as described in family name. When using only one, the first one, not the second must be used. So, spanish prime minister appear cited as Jose Maria AZNAR Lopez. An american that reads the name with no capitalization will call him Mr. Lopez, with is at least wrong and perhaps offensive. Moving things around to Jose Maria Lopez Aznar will not resolve things, is like changing LMS to MSL or another combination. I do see that leaving the capitalizations looks wrong, but some marker should be used to preserve that information, for example boldface, or when the complete name is used in an entry, begin the next line where is talked about as "Mr. Aznar". --AN


Well, those both sound like workable solutions. It doesn't seem necessary when the names conform to the English conventions, though. That is, I'd rather not see George Washington on a page. --KQ


Oh brother! Please don't drag us into the discussion of proper usage of boldface. Looks like you are twisting the fine points. What is the difference between ALL CAPS and boldface in non-rich text? If they are willing to sacrifice content over format, so be it.


Probably I am, but the phrase is "splitting hairs." Now that I notice it, the above example is a poor one, as Sr. Aznar's name is technically "Aznar-Lopez", in accordance with tradition in Spanish-speaking countries. So the revered CIA has done Sr. Aznar a disservice also. And I should add 1) the "they" you are referring to is not anyone other than me, as I've been the only one removing the shouting as I come to it; and 2) I'm not "dragging" us into a discussion of anything; anyone who hasn't wanted to discuss this topic has avoided discussing it. Why don't you go ahead and make your articles about naming conventions; obviously it's something you feel strongly about. --KQ

Excuse me! I think I was completely misunderstood here. I DID feel strongly about dropping the vital information from the CIA data as you have done. However, I never felt strongly about the conventions. (which of my sentences led you to such conclusion?) My dragging comment refered to AN's introducing the boldface into the mix.
Apologies. On that note, I'll bow out. --KQ

Mr. Aznar is not Aznar-Lopez. The use or not of the second family name in not official papers is mainly a personal matter, like the use of the middle name on english names. An to refer to someone by only the first family name is correct. So the above example is not a poor one. This is mentioned in the article

family name. --AN

I am thinking maybe the best way to avoid debates like this (which seem like more trouble than they're worth) is to say: "Wikipedia doesn't have an official policy on whether 'American' can mean 'of the U.S.', or whether last names should be in all caps, etc. People are free to do whatever they want to do. So you can feel free to change last names to lowercase if you like, and I am free to change it back. When one of us gets tired of it, great." Wikipedia so far is totally inconsistent on zillions of points of copyediting and style. Eventually, perhaps, we will hold a Grand Council about copyediting issues, and copyeditors will fan out and copyedit every single Wikipedia article into consistency. Until then, maybe living with inconsistency is the best way; we'll get more work (creating content) done. This probably deserves a column... --Larry Sanger

I chose not to play such silly ping pong game of copyedit hence my attempt to resolve the issue via a discussion. Unfortunately everyone were so blinded by following convention and refused to see the real problem. (I mean the problem of dropping information.)

Yes, that sounds fine, thank you. --KQ


I would agree with keeping the CIA capitalization as it was originally, since it seems the best way to mark clearly which name is the surname. As to that not fitting with standard English capitalization rules, so what? There is nothing wrong with breaking the standard rules if that is the most efficent thing to do. -- Simon J Kissane

thank you for the support.

First, let me say that I have seen the convention elsewhere, specifically in articles and results from the Olympics and other international sporting events, so it's not just the CIA's homegrown oddity. How about a compromise: names mentioned in text appear in standard English capitalization, which also serves as the title and link to the article about that person. In that article, the first and only the first use of that person's full name (as is common in the first sentence of a biographical article) can be in the more informative format; thereafter it is normal even in that article. For example, our own esteemed Wikipedian Erdem Tuzun might have a page that starts "Dr. ERDEM Tuzun is a Turkish author...", and then later in the article "...while Dr. Erdem's specialty is...", etc. That way, the "weird" but informative format of each name occurs only once in all of Wikipedia, in the one place where one would specifically expect to find a full name. It might also be OK to allow the convention in pure lists of names that aren't links to biographical articles when there are names of persons from many countries. For example, a simple list of casualties from a plane crash. --Lee Daniel Crocker.



Sorry if I mess up this article. Netscape is a rapist.

  • My "real" moniker is not "Juuitchan". I just use this here because I am on an English site. I would prefer じゅういっちゃん, except not many of you would be able to read it! I am trying to make this point: I think we should use kana transcription for all Japanese names which do not have an accepted English form, and also romanize っち as "tchi".
OriginalRightWrongReason
じゅういっちゃんJuuitchanJuitchan, Juuicchan, JuicchanKana transcription
とうきょうTokyoToukyou, Tookyoo"Tokyo" is the accepted English name.
じょうちだいがく(Do not romanize.)Jochi Daigaku, Jouchi Daigaku, Jouchi University, Jochi UniversityUse the official English name, "Sophia University".

'Nuff said?