A Dozen Conventions You Want to Know About

No. Not the kind of conventions where we go for three-to-four days of non-stop learning—or partying.

Let's look here at conventions researchers use to ensure they communicate clearly. More specifically, let’s look at conventions for the one thing researchers deal with the most: names.

  1. The first time we mention a person in our writing, we cite that name in full. Example: Robert Edward Turner.
  2. When the person used a nickname, we put that nickname in quotation marks after the given names. Example: Robert Edward “Ted” Turner.
  3. For names with suffixes, most style guides now drop the comma before the suffix. Example: Robert Griffin III.
  4. When we write the name of a married female of the past, we put the maiden name in parentheses. Example: Dorothea “Dolly” (Dandridge) Madison.
  5. When a female was married multiple times, we don’t put parentheses around the extra married names. Dorothea “Dolly” (Dandridge) Payne Todd Madison had just one maiden name. If you put all her surnames in parentheses except the last one (as we sometimes see others doing), we leave our readers confused as to whether one of those represents a known maiden name or whether they might all be married names.
  6. When we index a female, we index her under both her maiden name and her married name.
  7. When a female’s maiden name is unknown, we don’t create a cryptic acronym as a placeholder. There was no Mary MNU, even though a Google query serves up 408,000 of them. Here, too, there's a longstanding convention for identifying a female whose maiden name is not yet known: Mary [—?—] or Mary (—?—).
  8. When a person had multiple given names and did not use the first name as the call name, we mention the anomaly when we first introduce him. Example: Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, who used Pierre as his call name.
  9. When a document abbreviates a name, we don’t “helpfully” spell it out in full. The scrawl that appears to be “Jas.” might actually be “Jos.” Turning Joseph into James creates problems for ourselves and others.
  10. Putting surnames in all capital letters is a practice that died with the typewriter and shouldn’t have existed even then. To emphasize a word today, we use boldface or italics; and we’re careful about spacing between particles. If we put TERHUNE in all caps, we lose our clues as to whether the person self-identified as Terhune or ter Hune. (Yes, it makes a difference—not just for databases but for numerous aspects of research.)
  11. When identifying variant spellings of a surname, we don’t string them all together with slash marks. Example: Schexnayder/Shexnaider/Sechsnider/Saysnider/SeisSnyders/Schexnaydre creates a line break problem now that we “type” with word processors. Word-wrap much prefers parentheses and commas. Example: Wilhelm Schexnayder (var. Shexnaider, Sechsnider, Saysnider, SeisSnyder, Schexnayder, Schexnaydre).
  12. Historic names with particles are conventionally indexed under the actual name, not the particle, as in: Soto, Hernando de. A good index will then offer a cross reference in the “D” section, as in: de Soto: see Soto. But, of course, not every indexer know this convention. Therefore, we, as researchers, check indexes under every part of a name: Louis de la Court could be indexed under “D,” “L,” or “C.”

For many more tips about the use of names in our research and writing, you might even like a copy of our QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Finding People in Databases & Indexes. https://amzn.to/2LDICSh.


"Helpful Tips Stock Photo," CanStockPhoto (https://www.canstockphoto.com/helpful-tips-27022982.html : downloaded 18 December 2018), csp 27022982 uploaded by burtsevserge on 2015-04-21; used under license.


Elizabeth Shown Mills, "A Dozen Conventions You Want to Know About," blog post, QuickTips: The Blog at Evidence Explained (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/quicktips/dozen-conventions-you-want-to-know-about : posted 31 July 2018).

Submitted bylghayeson Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:19

4. When we write the name of a married female of the past, we put the maiden name in parentheses. Example: Dorothea “Dolly” (Dandridge) Madison.

Does this only apply to "a married female of the past" or does it also apply to females of the 20th/21st century?

Thank you.

Linda H