Names of humans: general notes

name rendition proper name personification phrase-level encoding
placeName persName

Discussion of the encoding of human names using persName, including criteria for identifying creatures as human, and guidelines for nesting name elements

For projects which are creating a detailed model of the text for long-term use, we recommend encoding all proper names of human beings using persName, regardless of their rendition, and regardless of where they appear in the text. The advantage of this approach is that it provides a basis on which to build a variety of functions: to link biographical information, to exclude names from various kinds of textual analysis, and to allow for easier discovery of individuals named (especially if the key attribute is used).

Even if a particular name must also be tagged with publisher, author, etc., persName should be nested within these elements. The only exceptions are cases where the name appears in part of the text that functions solely as reference or book infrastructure: for instance, tables of contents, indexes, catchwords, running heads, speaker labels. In these cases, the use of a name does not carry the same semantics as in other contexts: it does not actually name anything, it merely recapitulates a string of text whose real meaning lies elsewhere, in the main body of the text. (In the case of the speaker label, the useful meaning is carried on the who attribute of sp; see the who attribute.) If one were doing research on the use of proper names, one would seldom be interested in instances appearing in running heads or tables of contents.

Deciding on the boundary between human and non-human creatures, for purposes of applying persName, turns out to be challenging in early modern texts, because their range of literary, historical, and mythological reference is so great. We identify a few suggested rules below, but individual projects may need to adjust to suit their own texts and needs.

We consider a creature to be human if a significant portion of its anatomy is human: not necessarily the preponderance, but the important parts. Thus a creature with a human head, or a human body (let alone both) would be considered human, but a creature with only human arms would not. Thus the names of gods with animal heads are still encoded using persName. In addition, creatures which usually take a human form but appear temporarily in some other form (Zeus incarnated as a bull) are still tagged with persName.

Personifications of abstract qualities (Love, Virtue, Spring, Britannia, Fortune) should not be considered names unless they are used in connection with a creature who has some sort of discursive existence within the text: for instance, a speaking role, a corporeal description, a set of behaviors.