First, let me state that there is no absolute standard for data entry in family history – at the end of the day what’s important is that your system works for you, and not against you. As such, while these are guidelines only, I would like to think they comply with common sense. This post just covers how names of people ought to be entered, but I will post later on entering names of places and dates. As you know, I like feedback, so if you have different opinions, let me know. But if you disagree, please give me a reasoned argument for why.
Third party genealogy programs, and most online genealogy websites, have separate fields for title, given name, surname, suffix, and aliases (also called nicknames or AKAs – initials for also known as). It is important to use these fields consistently, and preferably as intended. Examples of titles are Reverend, Elder, Captain, Major, and so forth. But Miss or Mrs. are not regarded as titles, and should only be used if mentioned in the records. Even then the best place for them is in the alias field.
Why? Because most software search queries are going to grab the name field for the search. For example, if the given name contains Elizabeth (Sally), then Elizabeth (Sally) is what will be searched for. Most search engines ignore special characters like parentheses, but even so, you don’t really want to search for Elizabeth Sally in official records if Sally is only a nickname. Variations of a surname should also be entered in the AKA field for similar reasons.
Many people enter Unknown in the name field when the name is unknown either in whole or in part. Something similar is FNU (first name unknown or GNU (given name unknown). That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but should you do this? The answer is no.
Why? When using paper, that may be acceptable, and many genealogical recording standards stem from methods developed long before current technology. But standards need to evolve as technology evolves. Think about it. Somewhere out there in the information world (you’ve heard of the internet of things, right?) at some point in time the missing name may be identified. It may even get posted online somewhere. But remember, when you perform a search on an ancestor, what is written in the name field is usually used for the search. Searching for Unknown Brown (or FNU Brown) will not return meaningful results. It’s the same thing with entering nicknames.
Bottom line. Your data entry should reflect how well you are likely to find the information you are seeking.