Personal names

Getting personal names right is respectful. It also helps users avoid any confusion. Check that you’ve used the correct spelling, punctuation and capitalisation.

Use the right name

When you write to or about people, always use the form of personal name that the person uses. If you can, ask the person which name they prefer. Otherwise, consult reputable sources for:

  • Names of people who work within government or in roles related to government, including state and territory governments:
  • Records of names of people closely associated with Australia: The National Archives of Australia.
  • Historical and biographical information: The Australian dictionary of biography and Trove.
  • Information on prominent Australians, search ‘eResources’ such as Whos who in Australia or Encyclopedia Britannica: National Library of Australia.
  • The accepted form of authors’ names and the names of people being written about: library catalogues.

Names are important to a person’s sense of self. To avoid cultural or gender bias when referring to parts of names, use:

  • ‘given name’ instead of ‘Christian name’
  • ‘family name’ instead of ‘surname’
  • ‘previous names’ instead of ‘maiden name’.

Use initial capitals for personal names, initials and nicknames

Use initial capitals for the names of real and fictitious people.


  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal
  • Clive James
  • Minjee Lee
  • Miles Franklin
  • Fiona Katauskas
  • Beatie Bow
  • King O’Malley

Capitalise the initials of people’s given names. Write them unspaced and without full stops. Use non-breaking spaces to ensure that initials are not separated from family names.


  • W Aly
  • Ken G Hall
  • AD Hope
  • J-P Bruneteau [Hyphen is part of the individual’s given name, Jean-Paul]

Use initial capitals for nicknames. The first time they appear in your text, place nicknames in quotation marks.


  • ‘Madame Butterfly’ [Swimmer, Susie O’Neill]
  • ‘Blocker’ [Rugby League player, Steve Roach]
  • ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’ [Annette Kellerman, swimmer, diver and film star]
  • ‘Maj’ [Majak Daw, the first Sudanese-born AFL footballer]
  • ‘The Little Digger’ [Former prime minister, Sir William Hughes]

Be aware that a few people don’t use capitals for their names. This is a deliberate style decision that is part of their personal identity. Examples include bell hooks and kd lang. Use the form the person uses.

Spell plural forms correctly

The plural of any personal name is formed by adding ‘s’ or ‘es’. It depends on the spelling of the personal name (Table 1).

Table 1: How to make a plural form of a name
Names ending in Action to make plural Examples
‘s’, ‘x’ and ‘z’ Add ‘es’ There were 3 Yanises and 2 Lizes at the meeting but no Alexes.
‘y’ Keep the ‘y’ and add ‘s’ The Murphys always meet on Tuesdays.
‘i’ Keep the ‘i’ and add ‘s’ The 2 Ranis were close colleagues.
‘o’ Add an ‘s’ The 4 young Angelos played together all day.
All other letters Add an ‘s’ The 2 Evelyns in the section were cousins.

Punctuate possessive forms with an apostrophe

Use an apostrophe and an ‘s’ with personal names, even when they already end in ‘s’ (Table 2).

Plural personal names take just an apostrophe. Simply add an apostrophe to the end of the plural form.

Table 2: How to show the possessive form for names and for pronoun combinations
Number Names ending in Action to show possessive case Examples
Singular (one person) ‘s’ Add apostrophe ‘s’ (’s) Jas’s report
Singular (one person) Any letter other than ‘s’ Add apostrophe ‘s’ (’s) Tui’s signature
Plural (2 or more people of the same name) The plural ‘s’ or ‘es’ Add only an apostrophe (’) without an extra ‘s’ The Joneses’ responses or the Nasrins’ name tags
Plural (2 or more people of a different name) Any letter other than ‘s’ Add only an apostrophe ‘s’ (’s) on the last name Aiko and Tashi’s team
Plural (2 or more people using singular pronoun and possessive pronoun with a noun) Any letter other than ‘s’ Add only an apostrophe ‘s’ (’s) on the noun You and your partner’s luggage

Keep hyphens and all parts of compound family names

Always retain hyphens when you write given and family names that are hyphenated.


  • Kath Day-Knight
  • Alen-Igor O’Hran

Write all parts of compound family names. Keep the compound when writing a person’s family name.


William Delafield Cook [‘Delafield Cook’ is a compound name.]

Sometimes someone has more than one family name but is only known by one. Write all the names the first time and use the well-known family name after.


Mary Morton Allport [The artist is known as ‘Allport’.]

To decide which name to use, ask the person if you can. Otherwise, check works they have written, personal correspondence from them or reliable sources about them.

Follow reliable sources for non-English names

As far as possible, if you need to write a non-English name, use the same form and spelling as the person uses. Check their personal correspondence or works they have written. If you can, ask them how you should address them. As a last resort, use the name that is most commonly used in writing about the person.

Pay attention to the order of names

The order of names is culturally based. In many English-speaking countries, the order of a name is given name then family name. However, other cultures use family names first.

Some people change the order of their name when they move countries.

If you can, ask the person which name is their family name and how they would prefer to be addressed. Follow guidance for how to write about nationalities, peoples and places outside Australia.


Chinese–Australian economist Professor Xiaokai Yang was born Yang Xiguang. Yang is his family name. He changed his given name to Xiaokai after being released from prison in China. He is known by Xiaokai Yang in the US and Australia, but as Yang Xiaokai in China.

Keep accents and diacritic marks in names

Given and family names sometimes have diacritic marks or symbols, including accents, such as à, á, â, ã, ä, ė, ē, ĕ, ę.

When you write names, retain diacritic marks unless the person commonly uses a simplified form of their name.

Insert diacritic marks into your document with the Unicode Standard – for example, U+00E8 is è. In word processing applications, you can also use the ASCII extended character set.


  • Renée Geyer
  • Jirí Václav Daneš
  • Faddéj Faddéevič Bellinsgáuzen [Romanised Russian form] – Fabian Bellingshausen [English form]
  • Nguyễn Thu Giang [Vietnamese form] – Giang Thu Nguyen [English form] – Giang Nguyen [Simple form] – GT Nguyen [Initialised form]
  • Florens Theodor Reinhard Müller

Treat names with particles case by case

Some family names contain a particle, such as ‘della’, ‘Al’ or ‘von’.

It is sometimes difficult to decide how to capitalise these personal names in English.

Use the same capitalisation as the person uses. It is largely a matter of individual preference and family custom. If you can’t ask them, use reliable resources to decide on a case-by-case basis, then use the same form throughout the content.

Most, but not all, particles are written in lower case.


  • Kim van Netten
  • Thomas de la Condamine
  • Julian Van Aalst
  • Dame Constance D’Arcy
  • Freda Du Faur

The particle is sometimes omitted when the given name is omitted.


  • Ludwig van Beethoven – Beethoven [The particle is omitted.]
  • Richard Di Natale – Di Natale [The particle is included.]

Always use an initial capital for the particle when a name starts a sentence. You can also rephrase the sentence to retain the original form.


  • Willem van Otterloo was chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
  • Van Otterloo was chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
  • The chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was van Otterloo.

List family name first in reference lists

In a reference list, put the family name first and then the initial for the given name of the lead author.

Follow the rules for the author–date system to create an alphabetically ordered list.

Names you pronounce the same way but spell differently go together in an alphabetical list.


  • MacArthur AB
  • M’Cay H
  • McFarlane AD
  • MacFarlane D

[In this list, all family names are pronounced ‘Mac’. They are ordered as if they were spelt the same way.]

Release notes

The digital edition includes a new section on hyphens in personal names. This section wasn’t in the sixth edition.

The digital edition guidance complements the topic on cultural and linguistic diversity, which also discusses personal names. It has links to useful online sources such as a link to the Unicode Standard for diacritic marks.

The Content Guide did not provide specific advice on the style for people’s names.

About this page


Australian Government (2020) Directory, Australian Government Directory website, accessed 10 June 2020.

Australian of the Year Awards (n.d.) Honour roll, Australian of the Year Awards website, accessed 9 June 2020.

Microsoft Corporation (2020) Keyboard shortcuts in Word: insert international characters, Microsoft website, accessed 9 June 2020.

National Archives of Australia (n.d.) Search for people, NAA website, accessed 9 June 2020.

National Centre of Biography (2020) Australian dictionary of biography, Australian Dictionary of Biography website, accessed 9 June 2020.

National Library of Australia (n.d.) eResources, National Library of Australia website, accessed 9 June 2020.

National Library of Australia (n.d.) Trove, National Library of Australia website, accessed 9 June 2020.

Owen M (2018), How to type accented letters in macOS three different ways, appleinsider website, accessed 9 June 2020.

The Unicode Consortium (2020) ‘Combining diacritical marks’, Unicode 13.0 character code charts, Unicode website, accessed 9 June 2020.

This page was updated Friday 5 August 2022.

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