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Guide to articles

Entry names

Articles on individuals begin with the name under which the person is entered (the 'entry name'), which appears in bold type. The entry name generally consists of a surname and one or more forenames, presented in inverted order: Smith, John Edward. In some cases the entry name is a single main name (Henry), and sometimes it is followed by additional identification, such as an epithet (the Carthusian) or toponym (of Abingdon), which is given after the main name, in direct order.

People are entered under personal names, not under names derived from aristocratic titles or other honours. (Information about titles is given following the personal name: see further below.) Where alternatives exist, the entry name chosen is usually the person's full name at death. People are not generally entered under literary or other artistic pseudonyms, aliases adopted for purposes of deception or disguise, names in religion or saints' names, nicknames, or diminutive name forms. However, these names, and others that help to identify the subject, such as maiden names, former names, and variant spellings, are often given in square brackets after the entry name.

The choice of full personal name at death is varied in the following cases:

  • monarchs and their consorts are entered under their regnal names (the full personal name is provided early in the text)
  • royal children are entered under their names as known (again the full personal name is provided in the text)
  • performers are entered under adopted names when such a name consists of a forename and surname and when it superseded and differs significantly from the subject's original name (Grant, Cary)
  • married women who did not use a husband's name in pursuit of the activities for which they are known are entered under their maiden name, or under a former married name, as appropriate

The entry name may encompass a title that precedes the forenames (such as Sir, Dame, Lord, or Lady). Persons bearing the same entry name may sometimes be distinguished by upper-case roman numerals in parentheses, where these are customary in historical writing about the family concerned: Mortimer, Roger (III) de. If it is known that the first forename(s) given to a person were not used, these are shown in parentheses: Woolf, (Adeline) Virginia.

The spelling of an entry name generally follows that used in historical records and writings, and may not be the spelling that the person would have used in his or her lifetime. If the person's chosen spelling of the name is significant but is not that under which he or she is entered, it is given in brackets.

People in the British Isles who are not English are entered under the form of their name most likely to be found in the historical literature. Where it will be helpful for identification or to aid pronunciation, a Welsh or Gaelic entry name is followed by an Anglicized version in brackets; where a Scottish, Irish, or Welsh subject is entered under an Anglicized version of his or her name, the Gaelic or Welsh original is provided wherever possible. In articles on medieval people of Norman origin the prefix 'de' is generally used in a toponym where the person's connection with the place derives from birth or landholding, and the prefix 'of' where it relates to the person's activity in that place. People of foreign origin are entered under the name form most commonly found in English-language writings.

Order within entry names

All entry names consisting of a forename and surname are inverted for ordering by surname: Smith, John Edward.

When a surname comprises more than one word (such as a double-barrelled name) the inverted form is generally entered under the final word of the surname:

Bannerman, Sir Henry Campbell-
Bentinck, (William) John Cavendish-Scott-
Dyck, Sir Anthony Van
Smith, (Lloyd) Logan Pearsall

This formulation provides a predictable finding-rule for complex names, which occur often; but it does not indicate the form of name by which a person was habitually known, which is made apparent in the text of the article.
A few names of non-English origin are entered under prefixes which, following standard practice in their country or language of origin, have been treated as an inseparable part of the surname. These prefixes are:

A' Du Le St Ua
À I' M' O Ste  
D' L' Mac O' T'  
Des La Mc Ó Te  

Along with those consisting of only a single name, the following kinds of name are entered in direct order:

  • names of monarchs and royal children (Henry IV, Frederick Lewis)
  • a single name followed by an epithet (Adam the Carthusian)
  • a single name followed by a patronymic where the patronymic element changes in each generation depending on the name of the father (Anarawd ap Rhodri, Coirpre mac Néill, David fitz Gerald)
  • a single name followed by a toponym for people living before 1066 (Eadric of Laxfield)

Special considerations apply in the period before 1500, when naming customs and language forms were very fluid. Exceptionally, no subject in the period to 1500 is entered under D', Des, Du, L', Le, or La. Names with toponyms up to 1066 are generally presented in direct order; in the period after 1066 the place name is treated as a surname, and for subjects dying in or after 1307 the particle is usually dropped (Abingdon, Henry).

Where a reader is likely to look for a person under a name other than the entry name a cross-reference entry is included to guide the reader to the name under which the person is entered. However, cross-reference entries are not generally given for compound surnames or for names containing prefixes, the entry points for which are invariable (see above).

The entry names of family articles consist of the surname and the word 'family'. The entry names of group articles are formulated in such a way as to make them most readily findable—sometimes in inverted order (Roman Britain, British leaders in) and sometimes in direct order (Tolpuddle Martyrs).

Order of articles

Articles are ordered alphabetically by entry name; those with identical entry names are then ordered chronologically by date of birth or equivalent (see further below).

Entry names are ordered alphabetically up to the first comma, which generally occurs after the surname (in names entered in the 'surname, forename' pattern). Those with identical surnames are then ordered by forename. Ordering is letter by letter (so Butler, Elizabeth, precedes Butler, Eliza Marian). Names starting M', Mac, and Mc are alphabetized as if they all began Mac. Names starting St and Ste are alphabetized as though they began Saint. The following are all ignored for ordering purposes: names in square brackets and parentheses, titles preceding forenames (such as Sir), apostrophes, hyphens, spaces, accents, and titles appearing after the entry name.

The following (abbreviated) sequence illustrates alphabetical ordering of surnames with forenames:

Cottnam, Deborah
Cotton, George Edward Lynch
Cotton, (Thomas) Henry
Cotton, Sir Henry John Stedman
Cotton [née Robson], Mary Ann
Cotton, Sir Robert
Cotton, Roger
Cotton, Sir St Vincent
Cotton, Stapleton

Entry names comprising single names (together with any subsequent qualifiers), which are given in direct order, are treated for ordering purposes as if the first word of the name was a surname. All such entry names precede entries in the usual 'surname, forename' pattern. Where the first words of such names are identical, they are ordered by any remaining words in the entry name. Single names (including entry surnames for families) are given first; then names qualified by roman numerals (mostly in the names of monarchs); then those with additional words, which are ordered letter by letter. The following (abbreviated) sequence illustrates alphabetical ordering of entry names in direct order:

Henry I
Henry II
Henry Benedict
Henry fitz Count
Henry Frederick
Henry of Almain
Henry of Lancaster
Henry, Augustine

Where articles bear the same entry name, they are ordered chronologically, by year of birth (or baptism). If persons of the same name also share the same year of birth, the articles are ordered by year of death. Where the year of birth is not known, it is assumed, for the sake of ordering, that the person was born sixty years before the date of death, if that is known. If a subject is dated only to a period in which he or she flourished, then it is assumed that this date falls in the middle of a sixty-year life span. If a subject is dated only by a period within which he or she was alive (such as '6th cent[ury].'), then it is assumed for ordering purposes that he or she was born at the beginning of that period. (For further information on presentation of life and activity dates, see below.) The following (abbreviated) sequence illustrates chronological ordering:

Richard [Richard of Dover] (d. 1184)
Richard [Richard Palmer] (d. 1195)
Richard (fl. 1216–1222)
Richard (1209–1272)
Richard [Richard of Conisbrough] (1385–1415)


If the subject of an entry bore an aristocratic title, details are given after the entry name. Where more than one title was held, the person's highest title at death is used; in a few instances where the person is chiefly known by a subsidiary or previous title, that is stated in addition to the title at death.

An ordinal number is given whenever possible for all male holders of peerage titles and baronetcies originating in the British Isles, unless the peerage title or baronetcy was created for and died with the subject, or was a courtesy title. Ordinal numbers place each holder of a peerage title in a line of hereditary succession; so Hugh Percy (1742–1817) is described as second duke of Northumberland and not fourth, for although three individuals before him had borne the title, he was the second holder of the dukedom created for his father in 1766.

Women holders of hereditary peerages are marked by the Latin term suo jure ('in her own right') to distinguish them from the wives of hereditary peers. Where a title of nobility is borne as a title of pretence, it is qualified with the word 'styled'. This applies if the subject previously held the peerage title or baronetcy legitimately and then forfeited it; if they assumed it as part of an unsuccessful claim to the title; or if they assumed it as an alias.

Foreign hereditary titles of nobility are included where the subject had a career that was spent largely or entirely outside the British Isles, where they were foreign nationals, or where there is otherwise good reason to know that the title was in everyday use. Countries of origin are given for foreign titles where it has been possible to establish them.

In general, editors have treated GEC, the Scots peerage, Burke's Peerage, and the Handbook of British chronology (3rd edn, 1986) as authorities in the naming and numbering of peerage titles. These have been supplemented by research undertaken by contributors and by Oxford DNB editors.

Cross-reference entries are included for all title names that differ from the personal names of the persons who bore them.

Life and activity dates

Life dates are given after the entry name and title (if any). Dates are given wherever possible as years of birth and death. Where a date of birth is unknown, a year of baptism may be given instead, prefixed 'bap.'. If only a year of birth or of death is known, this is given alone, prefixed 'b.' or 'd.'. Years may be qualified by the addition of a question mark (meaning 'probably in the year given') or the prefix 'c.' (Latin circa: 'about', meaning 'about the year given: perhaps before and perhaps after'). Dates before the common era are labelled bc, and thereafter dates up to the year 100 are labelled ad. Other qualifiers (such as 'in or before') are self-explanatory.
A person's birth or death may not be datable to a single year. A solidus ('/') indicates alternative years: Ballantine, James (1807/8–1877). This form commonly occurs where there is evidence only of the subject's age at the time of another datable life event (for example, matriculation at university, marriage, or death). A multiplication sign indicates a range of years during which the subject may have been born or may have died: Baartman, Sara (1777x88–1815/16). Where a birth or death date cannot be more precisely fixed a decade date (late 1070s, early 1780s) may be provided.

Where neither a birth nor death date is known, dates are given of a person's known activity, prefixed by fl. (Latin floruit: 'flourished'). 'Flourished' dates may relate to activity in a single year or over a range of years. The same qualifications of year values may be used with 'flourished' dates as with birth and death dates: Smith, Theodore (fl. c.1765–c.1810x23). Where the person's activities cannot be dated more precisely, a century date is given. For a subject whose existence is highly doubtful or who is proven not to have existed, dates are prefixed by supp. ('supposedly').

The dates of activity of a family are prefixed by per. ('in the period'), indicating that the entry covers only that part of the family's existence. The dates of activity of a group are prefixed by act. ('active'), indicating that the entry covers the years of the group's activity and not necessarily its complete history or the lifespans of all its members.

Occupation or field of interest

After the entry name, title (if any), and dates, the identification of the subject of the article is completed by a statement of the principal occupation, activities, or field of interest for which the person is included in the dictionary. Taken with the other information, the occupational descriptor is intended to help the reader to identify the person quickly and in a general context. It usually offers a generic rather than a specific description (for example, 'Church of England clergyman', not 'vicar of Knutsford'), and a factual rather than an evaluative statement (for example, 'radio producer and presenter', not 'pioneering broadcaster').

Article text

References in the article text to the subject of the article (and to other people mentioned) use the name by which they were known during the period under discussion, which may not be the same as the name under which they are entered. A person who changed her name on marriage may be referred to first by her maiden name and afterwards by her married name; similarly one who succeeded to an aristocratic title will be called by his or her personal name until the date of succession, but by the title name thereafter. Persons with double-barrelled or other complex surnames are referred to in the text by the whole of the surname appropriate for the time under discussion.

Co-subjects are introduced in the course of the article text and their entry names are always given in direct order. If the narrative does not permit reference to the co-subject by his or her formal name at death, a bracketed identity is provided, giving this name and a title (if any). The entry name of a co-subject always appears in bold type, whether in open text or brackets. The bracketed pointer 'see below' is used to indicate that a person mentioned is a co-subject on whom the main information will be found later in that article.

Within a family article, persons of the same name are distinguished where necessary by lower-case roman numerals in brackets. Unlike upper-case roman numerals used in a few entry names and article texts, lower-case numerals are used solely for ease of reading and identification within the article, and do not indicate that the figures concerned are so known in the historical literature.

Dates are given throughout according to the modern practice of changing the year at 1 January; thus a date that might be given as 1 February 1521/2 is rendered 1 February 1522. Dates up to 2 September 1752 are old style, thereafter new style; generally the abbreviations os and ns are not used except where events taking place outside the British Isles make this qualification desirable and the dating system in use is clear.

Quoted matter is, wherever possible, provided with a parenthetical reference to the source: a short reference (consisting, for example, of an author's name and a page reference, or a work title and a page reference) relates to a work to be found in the list of sources at the end of the article; where the work quoted is not otherwise a source of information for the article a citation sufficient to allow the reader to trace it is given in parentheses.

Abbreviations used in the text are listed under 'General abbreviations' in the 'List of abbreviations' at the beginning of each volume.

Cross-references in the text

In addition to their use in cross-reference entries, cross-references are included within article texts to direct readers to other relevant entries. Cross-references are included in normal text for the following purposes:

  • to identify members of the subject's close family
  • to identify more remote members of the subject's family whose connection with the subject's life or activities is significant
  • to identify other entries in which significant coverage of the subject's life or activities may be found, such as the entry on a business partner
  • to identify entries on persons with whom the subject may be confused

Cross-references are not included simply to draw attention to the existence of articles on other persons mentioned in the subject's article.

Where possible a cross-reference is signalled by an asterisk attached to the entry name in the open text; otherwise a formal cross-reference is given in inverted form in brackets, prefixed by see or see under, as appropriate; 'see under' indicates that the cross-reference is to a co-subject found in the article under the specified entry name.


The signature of the author of the article is given at the foot of the article text. The style of the signature shows whether the entry has been newly written for the Oxford DNB or taken from the DNB and revised. Where an author's name is followed by the annotation 'rev.', he or she was the author of the DNB article, which has been revised for the Oxford DNB; the name of the reviser usually follows.

The position of the signature indicates the author's role as the writer of the memoir on the subject. The author also contributed all or part of the reference material that appears below the signature, but the project editors have verified and often supplemented these sections.

An Index of Contributors to the Oxford DNB, showing the entries that contributors have written and/or revised, has been provided in a separately published volume and is available to purchase individually.

Reference material

The references supplied for each entry consist of:

Sources: a list of materials used in the preparation of the entry
Archives: a list of the main archival holdings of the subject's papers and other remains
Likenesses: a list of images of the subject
Wealth at death: a statement of the value of the subject's estate at the time of death

(See the 'Introduction' for further information on the content of these sections.)

In all reference sections items are deemed to relate to the subject (or, especially in the case of sources, to the entry as a whole) unless a co-subject's name is given as a bracketed annotation at the end of a citation; such a citation relates only to that co-subject.

Sources are generally presented in the order in which the author supplied them, reflecting their importance. Commonly cited works are abbreviated: the forms used are listed under 'Bibliographic abbreviations' in the 'List of abbreviations' at the beginning of each volume. The form 'personal knowledge' indicates that the author knew the subject of the article; 'private information' refers to information gained by the author through private research that remains unpublished. The date following such citations is the date of first publication of the DNB or Oxford DNB article based on such information, not the date at which the information was acquired.

Archival holdings are divided into three sections: general holdings (including papers and other remains), film and moving image materials, and sound materials; the general section may be further divided into holdings of greater and lesser importance. Generally holdings cited first and those cited without a personal name may be retrieved in the archive's indexes through the name of the subject of the article. Multiple entries in each archives section are ordered alphabetically by institutional name.

Likenesses are ordered chronologically by date of execution, thereafter alphabetically by the surname of the artist or other maker, thereafter by the description of the work ('photograph', 'sculpture', etc.). The bracketed annotation 'see illus.' indicates that the item listed (or one item of a group cited collectively) is the picture reproduced in the article. The annotation 'see illus. in . . .' indicates that the likeness is reproduced in another article.

Wealth at death is recorded in a standard form where an official action (such as the proving of a will or the making of an inventory) has taken place; multiple records may be given, and a source for the information is generally provided. Informal assessments may also be given.

Abbreviations used in the references sections for the names of archives, libraries, museums, and other repositories are listed here


If an article includes a reproduction of an image, it appears near the head of the article, with a short descriptive caption. Further details, such as the location of the original, may be found in the list of 'Likenesses'. The holder of copyright in the image reproduced is given in its Image Details window.

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