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: Directory.gov.au.
- 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 Who’s 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.
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.
Ken G Hall
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 branding. 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).
|Names ending in||Action to make plural||Examples|
|‘s’, ‘x’ and ‘z’||Add ‘es’||There were 3 James
|‘y’||Keep the ‘y’ and add ‘s’||The Murph
|‘i’||Keep the ‘i’ and add ‘s’||The 2 Ton
|‘o’||Add an ‘s’||The 4 young Angel
|All other letters||Add an ‘s’||The 2 Evelyn
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.
|Number||Names ending in||Action to show possessive case||Examples|
|Singular (one person)||‘s’||Add apostrophe ‘s’ (’s)||Ross
|Singular (one person)||Any letter other than ‘s’||Add apostrophe ‘s’ (’s)||Gigi
|Plural (2 or more people of the same name)||The plural ‘s’ or ‘es’||Add only an apostrophe (’) without an extra ‘s’||The Jones
Keep hyphens and all parts of compound family names
Keep all parts of people’s names when you write them.
Keep hyphens in given and family names
Always retain hyphens when you write hyphenated names.
Use all parts of compound family names
Write all parts of compound family names. Keep the compound when writing a person’s family name.
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.
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.
Chinese–Australian economist Professor
Xiaokai Yang was born
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. Prefix the Unicode character with ‘U+’. For example, ‘U+00E8’ is è. In word processing applications, you can also use the ASCII extended character set.
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.
de la Condamine
The particle is sometimes omitted when the given name is omitted.
van Beethoven – Beethoven [The particle is omitted.]
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.
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
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 Tuesday 22 September 2020.