Who's Who (or Who is Who) is the title of a number of reference publications, generally containing concise biographical information on the prominent people of a country. The title has been adopted as an expression meaning a group of notable persons. The oldest and best-known is the annual publication Who's Who, a reference work on contemporary prominent people in Britain published annually since 1849.

In addition to legitimate reference works, some Who's Who lists involve the selling of "memberships" in fraudulent directories that are created online or through instant publishing services.[1] AARP,[2] the University at Buffalo[3] and the Government of South Australia[4] have published warnings of these Who's Who scams.

Notable examples by countryEdit

  • Who's Who, the oldest listing of prominent British people since 1849; people who have died since 1897 are listed in Who Was Who.
  • Cambridge Who's Who (also known as Worldwide Who's Who), a vanity publisher based in Uniondale, New York.
  • Marquis Who's Who, a series of books published since 1899 by Marquis, primarily listing prominent American people, but including Who's Who in the World.
  • Who's Who in New Zealand, twelve editions published at irregular intervals between 1908 and 1991
  • Canadian Who's Who, a listing of prominent Canadians since 1910
  • Who's Who in Switzerland, published from 1953 to 1996 and then Swiss Who's Who, a listing of prominent Swiss or leading figures living in Switzerland since 2015[5]
  • Who's Who in Australia, a listing of prominent Australians since 1923
  • Who's Who in France, a listing of prominent French or people living in France since 1953 (in French)
  • Who's Who in Scotland, a listing of prominent Scots since 1986
  • Who's Who, by Metron Publications, a listing of prominent Greeks since 1992
  • Who's Who of Southern Africa, published in paper form until 2007 when it was replaced by a website

Non-English publicationsEdit

The Danish Kraks Blå Bog (1912)
The Swedish Vem är det (1969)

Some Who's Who books have a title in the language of the country concerned:

Specialised publicationsEdit

Other publications and scamsEdit

The title "Who's Who" is in the public domain, and thousands of Who's Who compilations of varying scope and quality (and similar publications without the words "Who's Who") have been published by various authors and publishers. Some publications have been described as scams; they list any people likely to buy the book, or to pay for inclusion, with no criterion of genuine notability.[2] They may offer vanity awards[8] or expensive trophies.[9]

One example was the Who's Who Among American High School Students which was criticized for questionable nomination practices as well as whether the listing's entries are fact-checked and accurate.[10][11] According to the admissions vice president of Hamline University, "It's honestly something that an admissions officer typically wouldn't consider or wouldn't play into an admissions decision," adding that "Who's Who... is just trying to sell books".[11]

Who's Who publications are not all of questionable value, but publishers that select truly notable people and provide trustworthy information on them are hard to identify. A & C Black's Who's Who is the canonical example of a legitimate Who's Who reference work, being the first to use the name and establish the approach in print, publishing annually since 1849. However, the longevity of a publication is not in itself a guarantee. In 1999 Tucker Carlson said in Forbes magazine that Marquis Who's Who, founded in 1898 but no longer an independent company, had adopted practices of address harvesting as a revenue stream, undermining its claim to legitimacy as a reference work listing people of merit.[12] A 2005 New York Times article observed that the entries in Marquis Who's Who were "not uniformly fact-checked".[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Vernon, David (1 December 2007). "What Price Fame? Be a Very Important Person - all it takes is money" (PDF). The Skeptic. 27 (2): 16–18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 March 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b Kirchheimer, Sid. "Who's Who Directory Scams: With vanity publishers, fame and honors can cost you a small fortune". AARP.org. AARP. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  3. ^ Joe Ferguson. "Scam alert: dubious "Who's Who" publications." at UBIT news at University at Buffalo website. 7 March 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  4. ^ "Presidential Who's Who" at WA ScamNet, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Government of Western Australia. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  5. ^ "Le retour du "Who's who" suisse après vingt ans d'absence". Letemps.ch. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  6. ^ "Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur | Recherche | Biographische Datenbanken". Stiftung-aufarbeitung.de. Retrieved 2016-02-07.
  7. ^ "Kas yra kas Lietuvoje 2018". www.kasyrakas.lt.
  8. ^ Gewirtz, David (March 9, 2020). "Oh, you won an award? Don't click that vanity scam spam link". ZDNet. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  9. ^ Harris, Sheryl (January 12, 2019). "That 'Who's Who' invite aims at your ego -- and your wallet: Plain Dealing". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  10. ^ Yvonne Zanos: What's what with Who's Who, December 5, 2005, retrieved 2/12/07
  11. ^ a b Student Questions 'Who's Who' Directory Archived 2010-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, WCCO TV, January 3, 2006
  12. ^ Tucker, Carlson (8 March 1999). "The Hall of Lame". Forbes. ISSN 0015-6914. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2019. Who's Who in America ... appears to contain a lot of relatively unaccomplished people who simply nominated themselves. To make the process of self-promotion easier, Reed Elsevier, the publication's parent company and the owner of Lexis-Nexis, now has a site on the Internet where would-be biographees can complete a 'biographical data form.'
  13. ^ Hamilton, William L. (2005-11-13). "Who Are You? Why Are You Here?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-04-12.