Terry's TMG Tips

Using Name Variations

This page updated 12 Dec 2011

Version note: Applies to TMG 8 & 9

In TMG each person has a "Primary" name, which will appear in the Person, Family, and Tree views on the TMG screen, as well as in the Children and Siblings screens. The primary name is also used for the first appearance of the person's name as subject of reports, in the list of children in Journal reports, and in ancestry and descendants charts.

In Narrative reports a person's name may appear many times – in the output from each event Tag which is included in the report (depending on the Sentence Structure of the Tag). By default, those mentions will also use the Primary Name. But users have the option to specify any other name instead. You can specify that a nickname, married name, or a name changed legally or through immigration be used for reporting of events if you desire. You can also create any special name you like and specify that as well.

While many formal genealogies have traditionally used the birth name throughout the narrative, many users prefer to use married names, nicknames, and the like for events that occurred after a person changed his or her name. This feature provides that capability. The following sections explain how to use it.

Controlling Name Formats with Sentence Variables

Before moving into how to use name variations, we should take notice that you can achieve some control of how a name appears in narratives by use of Sentence Variables. By default, the pronoun "he" or "she" is substituted for the name of the subject of the report section when it would otherwise become repetitive. You can also choose name variables that produce first names or given names only, rather than the full name.

See my list of Sentence Variables for the applicable variables, and my article on Modifying Tag Sentence Structures for information about how to edit Sentences.

Using Name Variations - the Preliminaries

In order to use the name variation feature, you must be using Advanced Data Entry Mode. To switch modes, go to Preferences > Program Options > Data Entry.

You also must have created one or more Name Tags in addition to the Primary name tag.

You specify which name variation is to be used in each Tag, for each person attached to that tag. It might be a married name – Name-Marr tag – such at TMG offers to create by default for women when a marriage tag is created. Or it could be a nickname tag – Name-Nick tag – which you created to record a familiar name used by the person, or a name change tag – Name-Chg tag – created to record an actual change in the person's name. Or it might be a standard Name-Var tag, or a custom tag type, entered to record alternate forms or spelling found in the records.

You may need to be aware of some special behaviors of name tags in order to get the name to appear as you have in mind. If you leave the given name or surname field blank in a non-primary name tag, the tag will pick up ("infer") the missing given name or surname from the primary name tags. Thus, if you enter a nickname as a given name, leaving the surname empty, TMG will treat it as if you had entered the same surname as in the primary name tag. Likewise, if you enter only a surname in a married name tag, the given name from the primary name tag will be inferred. If you actually want the given name or surname to be left out, you must enter an exclusion mark (hyphen) in that field. Some examples:

Name as Entered
Given Name
Name Produced
Thomas Smith
Tom Smith
Thomas Smythe
T. J.
T. J.

Once you have created a Name Tag with the desired name format you are ready to specify that name variation in any event tag.

Specifying a Name Variation

The desired name variation can be selected for each person attached to any event tag. By default, the person's Primary name is used. For tag Principals, the name is selected from the drop-down list in the top right corner of the Tag Entry screen:

Tag Entry screen

There are two drop-down lists, one for each of the two Principals. In the screenshot, the list of the second principal is opened. Note that there are several names to choose from in this example:

"Primary Name" choosing this means the primary name tag is always used; if you make a new tag primary, it will then be used
Capt. Thomas Robert SMITH is currently the primary name, but if selected will remain the name used even if another tag is made primary later
other variations the variation selected is used

Note that while you appear to be picking a specific name, you are actually picking the name associated with a specific name tag. Thus, if you later change the name in the associated name tag, the new version will be used, and not the version that originally was selected.

There is a similar drop-down list at the upper right of the Add Witness screen:

Add Witness screen

The choices have the same meaning as for Principals.

Making Sure the Variation Actually Appears

Just specifying a specific name variation does not mean it will actually appear in the report text. That's because, as mentioned above, in the narrative for a specific person TMG commonly substitutes the pronoun "he" or "she" for the name of that subject to avoid repetition. The commonly used name variables [P], [W], [S] and [R:rolename] will generally produce this substitution after the first mention of the name in a paragraph of output text. Specifying a name variation will not inhibit this substitution. If you want to insure the selected name appears rather than the pronoun, you should:

This substitution does not apply to persons other than the focus person of the report section. So mentions of other people entered as the "other" Principal or as Witnesses will always use the selected name variation.

Some Thoughts on Using Name Variations

In my experience, one finds all sorts of ways a given person's name is listed in sources. Some are "real" – like the full formal name used on legal documents, a shorter one with no middle name or middle initial only, and often a nickname or married name. Then there are lots of others, which the person may or may not have actually used. Some of these are simply errors, and others are variations invented by the recorder of the record or a later transcriber.

A few users record every single variation found in name tags, often applying those variations to events related to the sources where they were found. Their excuse is that shows the reader how the name can be found if the reader wants to consult the source. To me that's nonsense. There is no need to record a census taker's or town clerk's error as a legitimate name variation. I do record how it's written in the Source Citation, but not as a name variation, and not in an event Tag.

When the person is the author of the source, like a letter or book, or the subject of the source, as in a birth record, I enter the name as I find it in the source record. For example, when recording a census as a source, I enter the head of household's name in the source exactly the way I see it there, regardless of whether it's right or wrong, and regardless of whether the person ever actually used that format. This aids a reader in finding my source, but it doesn't create an unnecessary name variation in my Project or in the body of reports.

My approach is to enter in the primary Name Tag what I think was the person's full "legal" name, as he or she used it as an adult. This differs with the usage of others, who always try to make the name a birth the primary name. My rational is that this is the name descendants and other relatives will recognize when they see this person mentioned in my reports or website. This is particularly true for people who changed their names or the spelling when immigrating, or who never used their birth names as adults. In the citations to various sources for this Tag I record what each source actually said in the CD. That leaves a record of how the source actually shows the name.

I don't think it's worthwhile to create separate name tags for John Joseph Jones, John J. Jones, J. J. Jones, John Jones, etc., because I think we expect people normally use all those variations. I only record in name tags variations that wouldn't be obvious and expected. For example, if the name is John and I find Johnnie, I regard that as obvious, and don't make a separate Tag for it.

If the birth name was substantially different than the Primary Name Tag, I create a separate Name-Bapt Tag that shows that name, with a Sentence that explains the situation. In addition, if the person used both a formal name and a nickname that is not an obvious diminutive of that, I record Name-Nick Tag for that, with a Sentence that says "He was know to family as ..." These birth/baptism name and nicknames statements do appear in my reports, and I occasionally use the former as name variations in event tags.

If I find a person generally used a different name, or used only a middle name most of the time, I modify the nickname tag to say "He was almost universally known as ..." If a person actually changed a name, or spelling, as often happened upon immigration, I create a name change tag, which not only records the change but explains when and why, if I know. To me, these names are quite reasonable to use in Tags recording events that followed the change.

If you find the full "legal" name awkward for mentions after the first in narratives, there are a couple of choices. The easiest is to use a name variable in subsequent Tags that only uses the first name, as mentioned at the top of this article. But, if that doesn't work to your satisfaction, you could create a name variation with a simpler version of the name, and select that name for all later Tags. You still don't need every variation found, just one or two so reports read as you like in output.

In short, the use of name variations is a powerful tool in creating reports that reflect the names people actually use, and voiding repeating long formal names. But just because you can record and include every spelling variation found in diverse sources is no reason to do so, in my opinion.

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