Wrangling Guidelines > Wrangling Guidelines - Metatags

Metatags act as a "basket" for other tags, while remaining a usable tag themselves. They collate tags, grouping similarities and making browsing easier. Tags are grouped together as subtags under metatags. Any canonical tag in the Fandom, Character, Relationship, and Freeform types can be made a metatag or subtag of any other canonical tag in the same type. (Media, Rating, Warning, and Category tags cannot have metatags and subtags.)

These Guidelines have been created to standardise metatag use as much as possible. These guidelines were reviewed and voted upon by tag wranglers in May-June 2010. For more general information, please see the Wrangling Intro page.

Page Under Construction: These guidelines are a living document with the primary purpose of helping wranglers do their job. They are always under revision; examples may not be currently canonical tags but should accurately represent the guidelines as written. Additionally, some parts may be outdated and no longer in use but not removed yet.

Base Rules

Metatags do one of two things:

  • They group semi-related tags
    METATAG: Cinderella - All Media Types
    SUBTAG: Cinderella (1950)
    SUBTAG: Ever After (1998)
  • They link a user-created ambiguous tag to the disambiguated tags
    METATAG: Yoko
    SUBTAG: Yoko Littner
    SUBTAG: Yoko Ono
    SUBTAG: Hashiba Yoko
    SUBTAG: Yoko Belnades

Note: If you remove a mid-level subtag in a meta-fandom with multiple layers, the children of the middle tag will lose their association with top-hierarchical metatag. To fix this, you must wrangle the subtags back to the remaining metatag. (e.g. you have a metatag 'X Works' with a child metatag for 'Specific Series', which in turn has children '#1' and #2'. If you decide to remove 'Specific Series' from the hierarchy, then you must make '#1' and '#2' subtags directly under 'X Works'; otherwise #1 and #2 will lose their association with 'X Works'.)

Handling Ambiguous Tags

Ambiguous tags are tags with two (or more) distinct and unrelated meanings. These tags are usually single words, or short phrases, with intended meanings that might not be immediately obvious to users without context. Ambiguous tags that are part of metatag trees can lead to concept drift and should be minimised.

If a tag is to be canonized, it should be canonized in the least ambiguous form possible without compromising clarity.

CANONICAL: Miami Dolphins
CANONICAL: Hydra (Marvel)
CANONICAL: Haven (Dragon Age)

If an existing canonical tag becomes ambiguous, it can serve as a metatag for disambiguated subtags, but it should not itself be subtagged. The relevant disambiguated subtag(s) may be subtagged in its place.

CANONICAL: Seals (Ambiguous)
SUBTAGS: Seals (Animals), U.S. Navy SEALs

Note: There is one exception: Ambiguous character metatags for characters with the same names can be subtagged to their ambiguous single name tags.

METATAG: James Wilson
SUBTAGS: James Wilson (House M.D.), James Richard Wilson, James Wilson (1742-1798)

Guideline updated 07 Aug 2018

Fandom Metatags

When do we need them?

Whether or not a metatag is required for a fandom (or group) of fandoms is at the wrangler's discretion. Not all fandoms will require a metatag - some will require more than one. Fandom metatags might group together all fandoms in a series, all works by an author, all types of media of a fandom. We do not usually make media metatags for unrelated fandoms that share a media (see sub-media categories below for the exceptions).

It is advised for the wranglers of all sub-fandoms under a metatag to assign themselves to the metatag as well. This ensures that any tags on works tagged only with the metatag but applicable to any of the subtags will be noticed and wrangled as appropriate. When you assign yourself a fandom, check to see if it has a metatag; if it does, please assign yourself to the metatag.

Base Guidelines

Where appropriate, follow the existing Fandom Guidelines for the creation of metatags, including capitalisation.

Many of these guidelines are also listed on the Fandom page. See Fandoms: Base Rules for more examples.

Fandoms where the common name is an author or creator

Standard Format: CREATORFAMILYNAME Creatorgivenname - Works (note that the author's family name is capitalised, but only initial characters of other words are capitalised).

NOTE: As commas cannot be used in tags, a vote was conducted as to format of metatags - this format was chosen by 62% of respondents, 9 May 2010.

CANONICAL: HEYER Georgette - Works

Add appropriate fandoms (eg books, series and movies) as subtags to the metatag. There may be several levels in the hierarchy.

METATAG: PIERCE Tamora - Works
SUBTAG: Tortall - Tamora Pierce
SUBTAG: Emelan - Tamora Pierce

This format of can be used for fandoms in all media types when users create generic author tags, by creating the "CREATORFAMILYNAME Creatorgivenname - Works" metatag and synning the generic author tag. Create these on an as-needed basis.

For Fandoms which are in a series

Standard Format: "FANDOMNAME" if the series title is unique and not shared by any work in the series, or if the fandom name will not be confused with an individual work. (e.g. disambiguated with (Movies))

CANONICAL: The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
CANONICAL: Bourne (Movies)
CANONICAL: Men in Black (Movies)

Standard Format: "FANDOMNAME Series" if the series title is also the title of one of the individual fandoms in the series, and is not obviously disambiguated otherwise. You can use standard Fandom disambiguation as needed.

NOTE: Omit the years from movie series metatags; use (Movies) instead.

NOTE: Individual fandoms (such as movies or book titles) may be added as subtags below the metatag. Individual works in a series often do not need distinct fandoms - especially with microfandoms with only one or two works, or series in which all parts concern the same set of characters/continue the same storyline, a single series tag is sufficient, and individual works can be synned to the primary tag (individual parts can be distinguished in the freeform tags, as with TV show episodes). In general, do not bother to make unique canonicals for individual parts of a series unless there is a compelling reason to do so (for example, if they feature different characters, if one particular part has a much larger fandom than the others, or if the fans strongly differentiate between different parts in some way, such as refusing to acknowledge sequel movie canon):

CANONICAL: Black Stallion Series - Walter Farley
CANONICAL: Harry Potter - J.K.Rowling
SYNONYM: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
SYNONYM: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
CANONICAL METATAG: The Eagle of the Ninth Series - Rosemary Sutcliff
CANONICAL SUBTAG: The Eagle of the Ninth - Rosemary Sutcliff
CANONICAL SUBTAG: Frontier Wolf - Rosemary Sutcliff
CANONICAL SUBTAG: Lantern Bearers - Rosemary Sutcliff

Fandoms which cross media

Standard Format: FANDOMNAME - All Media Types

CANONICAL: The Lord of the Rings - All Media Types
SUBTAG: The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
SUBTAG: The Lord of the Rings (Movies)

For Fandoms which are related but have different names

Standard Format: FANDOMNAME & Related Fandoms

Alternate Format: FANDOMTERM

CANONICAL: NCIS & Related Fandoms
CANONICAL: Jossverse


Metatag guidelines can be combined if appropriate.

CANONICAL: Doctor Who & Related Fandoms - All Media Types
SUBTAG: Doctor Who
SUBTAG: Torchwood

For Uses where Two Fandoms Share a Name

Standard Format: FANDOMNAME - Ambiguous Fandom

In rare cases, "Ambiguous Fandom" is used to refer to fandom tags that have been used on the archive for more than one unrelated fandom.

CANONICAL: The Avengers - Ambiguous Fandom

Don't make these tags unless absolutely required. Users may not understand what wranglers intend these tags to mean. For example, when trying to tag for Marvel's Avengers, some users may confuse "All Media Types" with "Ambiguous Fandom" and choose "Ambiguous Fandom" to indicate their Marvel Avengers work draws from both comics and movie canon.

Guideline updated 15 November 2016

Sub-Media Metatags

We do not usually make metatags to collect all fandoms in a "sub-media" category within a media - e.g. we do not have a tag "Radio Plays" for the radio show fandoms in Other Media, because of the difficulties of maintaining such tags. Another reason is that we have to improvise this structure using Fandom tags, as the Media tag type does not allow for metatags or subtags. This guideline and structure may change depending on the eventual decisions of the Category Change workgroup and subsequent code changes.

If users tag their works with such general fandom tags, usually these tags should be sorted into No Media and left unwrangled. There are limited exceptions (see below).

Celebrity & Real People (RPF) fandoms are an exception; because of the nature of RPF, which all can be seen as being part of one massive fandom of "real life", grouping metatags are often necessary to make sense of user-created fandoms.

Due to overwhelming request, we have set up "Sub-Media" tags for "Korean Drama" and "Japanese Drama". As noted, these Fandom tags are the exception, not the rule. It should be noted these are not true Media tags, but a specific Fandom metatag. As of 12/2011 we are now allowing such tags on a limited basis in other media, as an interim solution for certain small fandom sets. Sub-media tags have to be approved by Supervisors; email the Supervisor list or the general mailing list to request approval. Only metatags with established user demand (on or off the Archive, usually small, specialized categories with a general fanbase), a small number of total works (generally under 1,000), and a wrangler(s) willing to maintain them will be approved.

Character Metatags

For Ambiguity

Mostly applies to fandom-ambiguous single names, especially those names common enough to occur in multiple fandoms. The tag "Sam", for example, may appear in many fandoms, so cannot be synned with any other version of "Sam" (e.g. "Sam Winchester"). Instead, "Sam" can be made a metatag to all the Character tags which might refer to Sam, such as "Sam Winchester", "Sam Tyler", and so on, allowing users to filter for works tagged with either "Sam" in general, or specifically "Sam Winchester". Can also occur with anthropomorphized concepts or anthropomorphic characters.

Please note that characters should only be subtagged under a metatag if they are actually known by that name in the canon/in the fandom. So a character named "Samantha" who only ever is called "Sam" should be subtagged under "Sam" but not "Samantha", and a character named "Yang Tae Sub" who never is called only by their family name "Yang" should not be subtagged under "Yang". If you are unfamiliar with a character and therefore not sure whether a metatag would apply or not, do not make it a subtag.


Things to do as a wrangler for your assigned fandoms:

  • You may add all applicable metatags to pre-existing character tags in your assigned fandoms.

If your canon has a character like Samantha Carter who is always called "Sam":

  • You may add "Sam" as a metatag of "Sam Carter".
  • Do not add "Samantha".
  • Do not add the "Sam" tag to your fandom (canonized ambiguous tags should only be in No Fandom.)

If your canon has a "Sam So-and-So", but no archive users have tagged for that character, do not make a tag for that character, and do not add the "Sam" tag to your fandom!


If you find an ambiguous tag like "Sam".

  • Do NOT make "Sam" a canonical tag.
  • If the majority of usage on an ambiguous tag is for a particular character, that tag should be synned to that character’s canonical.
  • If usage is evenly split between multiple fandoms, add the ambiguous "Sam" tag to "No Fandom" - do not add it to any other fandoms. Supervisors regularly garden the No Fandom tags.

Guideline updated 18 November 2022

For other reasons

Some wranglers may use metatags to cover canonical genderswapped or canonical AU versions of characters, or characters with secret identities or alternate personalities. We don't currently have a particular policy on how to arrange this, but it may be done at the wrangler's discretion if it suits the tag usage of a fandom. You may also wish to ask the mailing list for advice.

Characters from megafandoms with lots of versions will often need character metatags.

Many versions of Robin Hood use generic names for the characters, but a number of them use specific names. The metatag structure for the character Robin Hood looks like this:

SUBTAG: Robin of Locksley
SUBTAG: Robin of Loxley
SUBTAG: Robin of Kensington

For superheroes and other comics-based characters with cape names, check the Alter Egos section of the Character Guidelines.

Relationship Metatags

For Ambiguity

This only applies to actually ambiguous single-name relationships. Even if the names on their own are ambiguous, the relationship may not be. Check whether a tag is ambiguous by looking at uses of the tag. If the tag has only been used for one relationship, consider the tag to be non-ambiguous and syn it to the appropriate canonical. (So "Harry/Draco" should be synned to "Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter"; it should not be made into a metatag.)

Guideline updated 13 November 2016

For other reasons

Characters who exist in lots of different adaptations of the same source material may need relationship metatags.

Many versions of Robin Hood use generic names for the characters, but Robin of Sherwood, Robin Hood BBC, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves use specific names for Robin and Marian. The metatag structure for the Robin/Marian relationship tags looks like this:

CANONICAL: Maid Marian/Robin Hood
SUBTAG: Marion of Leaford/Robin of Loxley
SUBTAG: Marian of Knighton/Robin of Locksley
SUBTAG: Marian Dubois/Robin of Locksley

Freeform Metatags

We are using metatags in the No Fandom freeforms, but on a limited basis. We do not aim to metatag all related concepts, only those where it is certain that a user looking for the larger concept would definitely want the specifics as well. In general, we don't make new metatags to organize tags, but stick to wrangling existing metatags. The same rules for freeform synonyms apply to freeform metatags.

The short form of this: Do not make freeform metatags hastily. Be wary of the impulse to cross-reference; multiple layers of nested metatagging lead to conceptual drift, where a broad metatag has little to do with a work using the most specific subtags.

Metatagging can also become problematic if it suggests that the Archive is making judgment calls about content or naturalizing one point of view — for example, subtagging “Abuse” and “Alcoholism” under “Additional Warnings Apply,” (we do not define what is warning-worthy content, apart from the specific warnings required by the Archive interface), or subtagging “French” and “Spanish” under “Foreign Language” (even if the majority of Archive users are currently writing/reading in English, we do not want to give the impression that the Archive officially sees English as “standard” and other languages as “foreign”).

  • Do metatag for cases where there is a clear set/subset relationship: e.g., “Incest” is a metatag for “Parent/Child Incest” and “Sibling Incest.”
  • Do metatag for challenge years, if there are enough year-specific tags to require them: e.g., “Yuletide” is a metatag for “Yuletide 2007,” “Yuletide 2008,” etc.
  • Do NOT metatag identities, languages, kinks, warnings, etc., unless you are absolutely certain it makes sense to do so. And even then think twice about it.
  • Do NOT metatag concepts together if it is debatable how closely they are related, or if it’s debatable which one should be the subset of the other (e.g. do not arbitrarily decide which should be the metatag with potential synonyms like "Happy" and "Cheerful").
  • DO look at the tag where you are considering adding a subtag to see if it is already part of a metatag tree, and to determine whether or not the new subtag would cause concept drift.
  • ONLY subtag if the tag is always a type of the metatag and/or works with the tag always contain the metatag. Example: Veterinarians are not a type of animal, and works tagged with veterinarians do not always contain animals. Therefore, do not subtag Veterinarians to Animals.

Guideline updated 16 Mar 2018

Conceptual Drift

Remember that a metatag returns results for all levels that are subtagged beneath it. Conceptual drift occurs when tags are added to a lower level of a tree that do not relate to the top layer. This can negatively impact user experience, as it is difficult to apply helpful filters when browsing, and should be avoided. Additionally, the more levels a metatag tree has, the more work it is for the servers.

Always look at any tag you are considering making a metatag and examine the full tree that it belongs to before you add a subtag, and read any comments on the metatags to help judge whether subtagging is appropriate.

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