When I'm documenting the place where an event occurred, should I write the name in my own language or in the native language of the place?

For example: Spain or España

I am assuming that I can only enter one place name per event listing since I haven't seen any systems that allow me to list multiple version of the same place name.

Related: Should I use the modern or historical place name?

  • It's an interesting question -- I doubt that you could make a strong case for keeping place and people-names in their native language, as most people won't be able to enter text in an arbitrary language. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:05
  • 2
    In terms of entering multiple values, I suppose you could use an alternate value, or a custom field to record entries in other languages. I suppose this is a great direction for fhiso to explore. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:06
  • 3
    Gramps provides "Alternate Locations" where you can list multiple versions of the same place name.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:38
  • @bstpierre Wow, I didn't know that. I'll have to check it out. I've heard many great things about it.
    – user47
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 3:40

5 Answers 5


Two questions regarding place names are asked repeatedly:

  1. Should I record location names as they are known now or as they were known when my ancestors lived there.
  2. Should I record location names in the language I speak or in the language that my ancestors living there and then spoke.

The fact that these questions are asked so much indicates that there are no simple answers. You can come up with advantages and disadvantages of either way you answer either question. There is no right or wrong answer. Pick one system and use notes as needed to add the extra information. The easiest approach is to use today's names in your own language and to add notes about the old names and languages.

  • 3
    I just wanted to emphasize what you said about using notes. Those notes can be especially useful for anyone building off that work. It's always a pain to have to re-learn what someone already researched (especially if that 'someone' is you).
    – David L
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 4:40
  • Both questions are already asked on here... I've edited this question to link to the other, and vice versa
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 12:09

An alternative way is to create multiple facts within your software when presented with more than one location/spelling. Family Tree Maker allows you to create multiple facts. A different example of their use would be if you had two different birth dates from two different sources (not unusual). Therefore you would have two birth facts listed. No reason you couldn't do the same thing with location names.

  • Family Historian also allows multiple sources for facts and just record the entry twice with both locations. My preference would be to record the details in the original source document as the master and then the current usage as the child fact.
    – Colin
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 8:15
  • Steve - excellent suggestion. It is a good idea to experiment to find which of the multiple locations your program will display. It might be the first, or it might be the last. Then be sure the version of the location you want displayed is in that spot. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 11:22

Remember that the information that you find can be heavily influenced by the language in which you search.

When tracking Welsh ancestors, I have found that using anglicised place names can cause me to miss many references. If I was reading about Monmouth, would I even pay attention to information about the town of Trefynwy? Yet they are the same place.

My rule of thumb is to ask "If I ever needed to redo any of this work, what would I need to search?" and to record the names of people and places accordingly.


Always write with an audience in mind. Who will eventually see this, and what is the simplest form for them to read/interpret? If you have living relatives in two countries, you may wish to keep two databases (English/Spanish). I sometimes generate family reports in both English and German for my American and German cousins.


I have come up with two ideas for this problem. First, in my records any place can have multiple names (e.g. in different languages). Second, for each place I also save the GPS position. This is especially useful for addresses, which sometimes disappear.

Note that this problem is also relevant for names and surnames. Again, making multiple language entries helps.

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