Sir or not to Sir? Coffyn or Coffin?

Started by Private User on Tuesday, January 4, 2011


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Private User
1/4/2011 at 3:10 AM

i've noticed that there is fairly widespread inconsistency with respect to the use of the spelling Coffyn vs Coffin. my approach has been to keep the Coffyn spelling for the UK, and indeed correctly derived, and the Coffin spelling for descendants of Tristram Coffyn nantucket et al.

Also, the use of Sir as a prefix to an individuals name seems to help in terms of sorting through multiple generations and instances of those wiht the same name. I also believe, as I do with Doctors etc, that the title is well deserved and shouldn't fall victim to potentially arbitrary conventions.

i am not suggesting my viewpoint as ruling, rather sharing my rationale given the challenge of consistency in the realm of genealogical crowdsourcing. it is tricky, but from my experience, such seemingly subtle differences can make a huge difference in matching data.

1/4/2011 at 8:47 AM

That sounds like a reasonable way to do it to me. We should add this naming convention to the starbuck/coffin project.

1/4/2011 at 9:09 AM


I would welcome your suggested disambiguation as a "naming convention" for the Coffyn / Coffin's and would find it most helpful.

I do ask that "Sir" (or any other honorific) not be used in the first name field. "Sir" is not a name, it's an honorific, and used as a "prefix."

Hopefully Noah can get prefix and title fields added to the Geni database and that will further help distinguish the generations.

One thing I do nowadays is use the suffix field with a place name. For instance, Peter Coffin, of Nantucket; vs. Peter Coffin, of Ipswich. Etc.

Private User
1/4/2011 at 8:37 PM

hi guys,

i am not wanting to be viewed as an upstart, however i would like to make a case in favor of using prefix's in the first name field until such time a more permanent solution is implemented.

my thinking is that the "prefix" Sir or Dr or Countess et al, are-in my opinion-names indeed, or at least a portion of someone's name. they are not only distinctions that have been earned, but also used when addressing someone. Dr Coffin, Sir William etc.

personally i feel that using the "of Devon" distinction in the suffix field is setting up for problems down the road and undermines the concept of delineating names, locations etc in seperate database fields.

what if there is Peter Coffyn Jr of Devon? shouldn't the Jr go in the suffix field? but what then of the "of Devon?" granted, using the individual's location was very much part of the evolution of how surnames came about, but i don't think that applies in this instance?

an example of foreseeable train-wreck might be something like:

Peter Coffyn of Hertfordshire - shows in a list this way but if there are more than one, more than one in Devon. you have to click down another layer to determine which Peter is your guy.

maybe the Peter Coffyn you are looking for was a knight... in that case, you'd know this at the list level because the listing would read:

Sir Peter Coffyn

another thought that comes tom mind is the variables. how many hamlets, towns, cities etc variables are there? i suppose i am looking at this in somewhat of a combination of information organisation and usability//hierarchy standpoint.

since what i am suggesting arguably only has a few variables, there is not much room for conflict, just another distinction of meaningful information helpful in more than one way.

at the moment, i can think of the following prefixs that i favor as candidates for inclusion in the first name field:


again, i am simply trying to support a different take on this, not be argumentative. i only argue about ice cream and bowling :p

an example case, richard coffyn is a name that consistently descends almost 200 years all the way up into 1300s in a particular lineage. not all were knights. there are instances of cousins with same name, but only one was a knight.

or, i have my father, grandfather and great grandfather with the exact same name. 2 were doctors.

another example is richard coffyn, the father of sir richard coffyn, sir richard coffyn served as a knight under henry viii during the same time as his younger brother sir william coffyn.

they were both from devon.

i guess i am thinking that the prefixes i am suggesting are not arbitrarily affixed, quite the contrary,

i agree that using such prefixes as Mrs, Ms, Missus, Mssrs, Master, Lady, Dame, Mademoiselle etc (many of which i have seen used rampantly btw) would be unnecessary "noise" and offer no "disambiguation" value.

i do feel Geni is remiss in not having a simple pulldown or similar way to populate a prefix field which is indexed along with the other fields.


1/4/2011 at 8:42 PM

1. Prefix field has been requested and Geni is looking to implement.

2. Title field has been requested.

3. Display name "expose in all views" has been requested.

4. "Nickname field" re-labeled as "Also known as" has been requested.

This gives you FOUR places to add a prefix / title so names can be used precisely as labeled in geni: as names.

As a curator I am strongly opposed to titles in "name" fields. Trust me, I have done more detangling of bad merges based on people doing this --- what a waste of my time. Please, I beg you, don't do it to me. :)

The problem is "tree matches." The geni search engine matches on "name" fields, so if you have "Sir" (first name) "Coffyn" (last name) you are going to get every Coffyn who was a Sir (which is more than one).

It's a recipe for bad merges.

1/4/2011 at 8:53 PM

P.S. We are coming up with "naming conventions" for the Geni Community Wiki in this project, please feel free to join:

Private User
1/5/2011 at 9:44 PM


i wasn't aware of the forthcoming (1,2,3,4) additions to the profile name fields. seems like the issue discussed here would become non-issues once mplementated. although, i hope we could designate and/or control the proper use of said fields. will they be pull-down with choices? or open for any input?

i appreciate your insight and taking the time to address my questions. i wish you'd also taken a moment to answer some of the other issues and questions i'd mentioned. i'd really appreciate that :)

i can assure you that my ability to be part of the solution and NOT part of the problem would be much greater if i had the benefit of your responses.

i respect your experience and the gravity of your responsibility as a curator and want to make sure you know i never intend to appear insubordinate to your insight. please correct me if i am mistaken, but we are basically talking about a huge amount of data, usability, naming convention and manageability - right?

i've been involved in a fair number lofty information design projects and would be more than happy to contribute (hah, no, really?) any insight or ideas that might prove valuable in the equation here. but i am not really sure about how or with whom to engage in order to contribute in a valuable way.

the scenarios i mentioned above, which i think are fairly representative assessments and describe relevant examples of the symptoms of the naming convention tangle we're discussing, haven't been acknowledged in your response, is this because they are non-issues and i just don't have that information?

i am just wanting to help, not just because i want things to be easier for me, but also because the problems i am encountering are likely encountered by others.

on, Sir Richard Coffyn b 1168, is widely "documented" as having been married to Eleanor of Aquitaine (who was married to Henry II) which is arguably and entirely inaccurate. is NOT a site that supports or fosters collaboration, so the issues we've run in to here would likely just remain afloat contaminating to and fro.

headed to naming convention wiki now ->

how can i help erica? can i buy you a cocktail?

Disclaimer: any inferences of potentially incendiary remarks above should be considered resulting from the distortion of or lack of tone and inflection.


1/5/2011 at 9:51 PM

Hi Tristam,

I don't have all the answers nor do I have time frames -- that would be a Noah question:)

I am assuming that the Prefix would work like Suffix does now: with some drop down choices built in, but the ability to accept free text input in Profile view. I doubt Title or Birth Name would have an auto population.

You can help tremendously by joining the "naming conventions" project mentioned above and helping develop a "standard suggestion" for an area of history on the Geni Community Wiki. That would really help all of us.

LOL @ Eleanor of Acquataine. There are some strange myths that cycle on the internet. We're after historical accuracy here.

Private User
1/5/2011 at 9:58 PM

PS: i will respect your request to NOT mangle things to your chagrin, and hold off on any further changes either way in terms of adding "Sir" to the first name field.

could you please address the issues in my post, eg: "of Devon" in Suffix field etc.

1/5/2011 at 10:14 PM

What's your objection to a place name in the Suffix field?

Private User
1/6/2011 at 12:19 AM

well, i think it mainly has to do wiht the fact that "place" is more or less irrelavent until you've drilled down to to profile level, which at that point "place" can be featured elsewhere on the page.

having it in the suffix, for me, adds a level of abstraction that serves no purpose to distinguish one "john smith of devon" from another "john smith of devon"

do a search on:

william coffyn

you should get 4 results. choose to sort by Last Name

i added "of Devon" to one of the profiles, which you should third in the list. when looking at the list of profiles in tis manor, the "of Devon" provides little to no helpful information in terms of searching. it seems what is most helpful is the "Son of" and "Father of"

that, and of course, the birth and death dates.

adding the "of Devon" to me simply adds unnecessary information that is more or less irrelevant at that level in the search process. especially if, for example, i had results numbering 25+ and half were "of Devon"

in terms of suffix, i firmly believe Sr, Jr, II, III IV are equally valuable as "Father of" and "Son of"

no doubt genealogy is an incredibly complex and in some ways arbitrary - if you look at it from an historically consistent standpoint- category of information design to wrangle.

the only similarly complex example i can equate it to is weather. i worked for during a major site redesign and it took over 18 months... a suffocating amount of data to organize, present and optimize for ease of use, comprehension and usability. whew!

in summary, i don't see the advantage or value, except in limited and isolated instances, of putting a "place" in the suffix.

1/6/2011 at 7:30 AM

OK you're assuming "search." I don't often use "search." I am mostly in tree view trying to distinguish between 4 different generations of Tristam Coffin who have become conflagrated together.

So I tried numbering (l, ll, lll) and ran into trouble when the numbering would repeat, or when a nephew and not a direct line took on the same name.

In researching (old books usually) I started noticing that ancestors would be referred to as, for instance, Robert Reynolds of Ipswich vs. Robert Reynolds of Isle of Wight. It made it easier to keep them distinguished and confused with each other.

So think again for my situation -- keeping the different generations appropriately unconfused. Now do you see the value?

1/6/2011 at 7:32 AM

Here are the other problems I found with l, ll and Sr Jr.

- Sometimes especially more recently Sr Jr etc is a part of the legal name as reflected on birth certificate. Therefore it should be used as such in those situations.

- In older times a person would start to be referred to as Sr when his son Jr was born. When Sr died, grandson would become Jr and the former Jr would become Sr. Mass confusion!

Private User
1/7/2011 at 12:04 AM

yes, i am thinking about search since whatever profile data is abstracted to remain in the search results plays a critical role in distinguishing that profile from another. it wold seem to me that if the objective were not to have distinguishing data even at the most abstract level, then no meaningful results could be expected by searching.

a user has to start somewhere. i am guessing they start by conducting some flavor of a search..

bing in tree view would seem to me to be something a user would not attempt until at least a few visits or even after a somewhat lengthy overall exploration of the site.

unfortunately i don''t have any insight to how the site is used, otherwise we'd have a much better chance to fine tune this issue.

so, in terms of tree view, i am completely overwhelmed with the usability or lack thereof frankly. it seems the small square further limits the amount of info that can be featured, however i am thinking the intention of a user in that context is arguably different than in a search mode.

in tree mode, aren't we more or less cleaning up, double-checking, fine-tuning, weeding out and filling in the gaps?

in this instance, i've been terribly frustrated for many reasons, some of which have more to do with the actual design interface, rather than the information etc. but i think there are some significant information issues at play in the context of the tree view.

i will take a quick break and go gather my thoughts so i can explain properly. brb.

Private User
1/12/2011 at 6:58 PM

hi Erica,

pardon my absence, I've been away for awhile.

I am wondering if any determining thoughts have come to you regarding the use of "Sir" in the first name field and NOT using "of Devon" in the suffix field?

any thoughts? should/can we solicit input from add'l experienced folks?

1/12/2011 at 7:31 PM

You are welcome to ask for additional input but you're going to get the same answer from all:

"Sir" is not a first name and should *never* be used in the first name field. Curators and collaborators will exterminate it on sight. Be prepared. Sorry!

The Suffix / place name issue is open for discussion. I suggest the Coalition for Naming Conventions Project as the place to address it, as there are ideas and suggestions that will, perhaps, make it less necessary.

1/12/2011 at 8:15 PM

Hi Tristram,
I also suggest joining the Coalition for Naming Conventions project.
"Sir" is a title, not a first name-- so I concur with Erica's opinions.

1/12/2011 at 11:35 PM

I agree with Tristram. Anything that helps distinguish people with the same names is a necessity.

1/13/2011 at 2:02 AM

Not when an honorific is name field. It is terrible for the database and creates more confusion and false matches, not less.

Let names be names and request fields be added.

Private User
1/13/2011 at 7:25 PM

i am finding this discussion rather tedious and don't feel like any real communication is happening., i realise "sir" is not a first name - this is not something that most 2nd graders would argue.

however, my point in terms of considering the placement of "Sir" when referring to a Knight, in the First Name field has, at the very least, enough merit to have some productive discussion about it. if not, and all i can expect is repeated statements that are closed-ended, well i have no reason to continue "pressing the button" do i?

simply stating repeatedly that "Sir is not a first name" has no impact beyond the first time the statement was posted.

i am beginning to question the business strategy for if they somehow respond to PAYING users' request o modify their user interface in order to accommodate a better user experience as well as straighten out what is obviously going to compound whatever current database problems that currently exist.

perhaps i am assuming that is not a crowdsourced entity, and instead expect they have a vested interest in improving their product.

i find the entire user interface for to be clunky and difficult to navigate - mostly related to content location. but that's another story.

it appears to be a real shame because, while providing a decent authentication layer to their service, as well as a fairly robust user interface, they lack considerably in terms of community and collaboration. seems to offer some of what is missing in, however i am finding the collaboration to bew fairly obtuse and honestly not very inviting.

i get all the reasons that adding "sir" to the name field is detrimental to the database et al. however, i think it is worth weighing against what i would think is ultimately more valuable, and that is usability. if there is no usability, the database is moot. no one cares how the database works if they cannot understand or use it easily.

i can appreciate "genealogist purists" and their concern over preserving the integrity of standardized naming with respect to person profiles, but i would argue there must be come compromise in order to accommodate what is arguably more important, usability.

why isn't moderating these issues? why can't they establish conventions? why aren't they willing to accommodate users' interests etc.

personally, i findit absured that we can't identify a handful of designators, which really are important in terms of sorting through duplicate profiles, duplicate names etc by modifying what goes into the first name field? and, truth is, if for example we are talking about little more than:


when proceeds to update the entry fields, these anomalies could be very easily parsed out in the blink of an eye. so the database would really not suffer any harm at all.

meh. i am afraid this is falling on deaf ears.

which is the proper way to enter data into fields? should we use the proper name usage per the time period context? or should we use the usage per current time period as the wiki being created suggests?

some may find this worth reading in terms of honorifics and then "sirs"-

Private User
1/13/2011 at 7:27 PM


thanks for the invitation, i actually commented there yesterday, which i believe includes having joined as well.

1/13/2011 at 7:31 PM


As an end user I can only work with the database fields at hand. A Prefix field has been requested and its up to Geni and its developers to advise on implementation: further than requesting enhancements we cannot do, right, except develop best practices for data entry? So that's the question I addressed, as I have no more ability to impact design than you do.

So when working with the fields available, we are developing those "practices" in the COGNOS discussion and input is more than welcome there. Yes, we are trying to break it out into practices by language and period and provide handy little summary guides on the Geni Wiki. Your assistance in that enterprise would be much appreciated.

Private User
8/25/2014 at 8:01 PM

Im not sure how to approach...I believe my grandma is of to be one of the last descendants of the coffin line from tristan coffin, we have recently been going through tons of dovuments, family books, even pages showing our ties to starbucks/macys/nantucket(which my grandmother did a family reuniom there recently) and even our past family house in devonshire england. Anyhow, Im just getting involved and before my grandma passes shes 94 she has a lot of info to share!!! Would love some feed back!!

8/25/2014 at 10:31 PM

The American Geni tree for the Coffins is great & your branch contributions would be awesome. Please merge into the existing profiles.

I am told that much on the England side is unproven, so "very" careful going there.

Private User
8/26/2014 at 9:17 AM

How so on england? Let me look into it. We have the land deed from william the conquerer giving oir family land...which then used hides and cattle etc. Very interesting though

8/26/2014 at 11:56 AM

There is an unprovable stretch in England. Cannot be connected with veracity to the direct American line. To me the interesting piece is connecting up all the Coffin strands now back to the first American immigrants, the family is remarkable for accomplishments.

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