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Wikipedians are hung up on the meaning of Madonna

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By Svampesky

It's unsurprising for Madonna to be at the centre of a religious controversy. For the past seventeen years, there has been an unresolved debate regarding the Wikipedia page titled Madonna. The Wikipedia community remains divided on whether this page should focus on the singer, topics related to Mary, mother of Jesus, or serve as a disambiguation page for both.

What's in a name?

A painting.
Madonna del Granduca, Raphael, 1505

The term 'Madonna' originates from the Old Italian phrase ma donna, meaning 'my lady'. In the 16th century, it was used as a respectful form of address for Italian women and subsequently became a title for Mary, mother of Jesus, in Roman Catholic tradition by the 17th century. In art, a Madonna is a depiction of Mary, sometimes with her child, Jesus. Over time, the word 'Madonna' acquired various connotations related to women. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the name became strongly associated with the singer Madonna Ciccone, who chose to perform under her first name alone. Consequently, it evolved into a moniker used to describe a singer, usually female, whose artistry or success is comparable to that of Madonna.

When a term is potentially ambiguous, the Wikipedia community aims to designate a primary topic to what the reader is most likely looking for. In cases where no clear primary topic exists, the page usually lists all relevant pages as a disambiguation page. A topic is considered primary if it is the most commonly sought after when readers enter the term. The primary long-term significance sometimes holds greater notability and educational merit, as in the case of common nouns.

Disputes over primary topics are typically resolved through move discussions to gather a consensus among editors. The discussions take into account factors such as traffic statistics and references from reliable sources. Merely being historically significant or the origin of a term does not automatically confer primary status, nor does relevance to a specific audience group ensure primary status if the general reader is likely to perceive it differently.

The many requested moves of Madonna

TKTK
Madonna performing in front of a Madonna, on the Rebel Heart Tour in 2015.

In the early days of Wikipedia, the page Madonna was created on 8 February 2002, by Chato as a biography of the singer. On 31 July 2002, a hatnote was inserted after an IP editor added, 'Madonna is a term used to refer to the Virgin Mary.' As the page grew, it became a somewhat disambiguation page, which was divided into two sections: the top discussing the term referring to Mary, and the bottom remaining a biography of the singer. On 29 October 2002, Nate Silva created the page Madonna (singer), transferred over the relevant text, and reconstructed Madonna into a disambiguation page, later adding a link to Madonna (art).

On 1 April 2008, a proposal was made to move the page Madonna (entertainer) → Madonna, arguing that the singer was more frequently searched than Mary, thereby warranting a direct link. Supporters cited that the singer received significantly more page views and links than Mary, suggesting a primary usage. However, opponents stressed that page views alone should not determine primary usage, emphasizing the importance of consensus and the historical and cultural significance of the name Madonna as it relates to Mary. All editors opposed the move, and the pages remained.

In 2010 and 2012, Madonna (entertainer) → Madonna was again discussed, with arguments that the singer is more commonly associated with the name and that disambiguation pages should follow a consistent naming convention. However, opponents argued that the primary and proper meaning of 'Madonna' is Mary and that both subjects receive significant traffic. They suggested keeping Madonna as a disambiguation page or moving it to 'Madonna (disambiguation)' instead. The consensus leaned towards opposing the move, citing the ambiguity of the name and the necessity of disambiguation due to the multiple notable uses of Madonna.

In early 2013, editors debated whether Madonna should primarily refer to art depicting Mary. Kauffner and others supported moving Madonna (art) → Madonna, citing its long-term significance and educational value, following guidelines favouring enduring notability. Opponents argued that 'Madonna' is overwhelmingly used for the singer, as evidenced by high page views and links, and redirecting to the art form would confuse readers. It highlighted the clash between historical significance and current usage in determining Wikipedia's primary topics, ultimately maintaining the disambiguation to accommodate both interpretations.

With each request, the case for the singer being the primary topic gained strength. In 2013, 2014, and 2016, the move was debated again, with the same arguments from previous discussions being raised. By 2020, a consensus established that the singer should be the primary topic and the page about her was moved to Madonna. The discussion was closed by Daniel Case, who reviewed it with prior discussions. He observed that previous outcomes had either opposed the change or failed to reach a consensus. He acknowledged the controversy surrounding his decision among the opposers, emphasizing that consensus can shift over time.

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Madonna of the Cherries, by Quinten Metsys

The discussion observed that the typical reader is more likely to seek information about the singer when searching for 'Madonna', as evidenced by view statistics. A frequent counterargument to the opposition was that Wikipedia's purpose is not to act as a cultural gatekeeper, but to reflect current knowledge and interests. It was acknowledged that the decision is not final and can be reconsidered in the future should the singer's cultural relevance decline. Additionally, comments raised the question of whether some opponents' interest in Catholic arts and religion indicated a cherry-picking of policy to support a bias.

In 2022 and 2024, move requests determined that the singer should continue to be considered the primary topic for the term Madonna. It was shown that readers search for the singer at a much higher rate than for any other topics, including religious figures. Supporters of the move argued that Madonna as a religious figure and artistic motif has centuries of historical significance. Opposers highlighted that the singer has had a multi-decade career with substantial commercial success and influence. Some suggested that her relevance might be declining, while others noted that the religious significance might also be declining due to the reduced prevalence of Christianity in the English-speaking world.

Ultimately, the discussions concluded that while long-term significance is important, the high current usage of 'Madonna' to refer to the singer was the main deciding factor. The consensus was that the singer remains the primary topic, as the argument that most readers are looking for information about her was deemed stronger. Predictions about the future significance of either topic were considered speculative and not heavily weighted. Therefore, the singer being the primary topic of 'Madonna' was retained both times.

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There was some similar turmoil over Georgia, as can be seen at Talk:Georgia... AnonMoos (talk) 16:56, 4 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]
Not the same, but Czech Republic has a few RM:s under its belt. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 18:39, 4 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for the article! Interesting to read about drawn-out conundrums in corners of Wikipedia I haven't visited (yet). I once bookmarked one user's curated list of articles with disputed titles that have been yanked around in all sorts of requested moves over the years. Fun to browse if you like that sort of thing. Crunchydillpickle🥒 (talk) 07:57, 5 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]
Ah yes, I recently saw Decade-Long Battle for “Yogurt” vs. “Yoghurt” on Wikipedia by Nathan Yau. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 08:25, 5 July 2024 (UTC)[reply]



       

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