Abbreviation with Names and of Titles

By Mark Nichol

This post outlines major conventions regarding the use of initials and abbreviations in association with people’s names.

Periods are used with initials in names (“W. E. B. Du Bois”) unless someone is referred to exclusively by his or her initials (“FDR”). Note, too, that in formal writing, a space separates each initial used in a full name, as shown in the first example here, though periodicals and other less formal publications generally omit the spaces (“W.E.B. Du Bois”).

Civil or military titles are often abbreviated before a full name but not before a surname alone (“Sen. Elizabeth Warren,” but “Senator Warren”), although inclusion of the title with the surname is generally not necessary. (In this case, Warren alone is suitable for subsequent references to the person after the introduction of her by her full name.) In situations in which space is at a premium, as in a chart or table, abbreviation can be applied more liberally, and in that case it’s best to be consistent within the graphic element even if sufficient space is available with some names but not others.

Social titles such as Mr. and Ms. are rarely used in published writing anymore, except in quoted material, and are redundant when initials designating an academic degree or professional attainment follow a name. (For example, in the phrase “Dr. Jane Smith, MD,” Dr. and MD are two ways of expressing the same information.) Note that such references as MD, or CPA (for “certified public accountant”), are appended to a name enclosed between commas, but when abbreviations such as Jr. and III follow a name, no intervening punctuation is necessary (as in “John Smith Jr. was honored at the ceremony”).

In narrative, spell out titles such as “the Reverend” and “the Honorable” before a full name (and do use the article), but they can be abbreviated as Rev. or Hon. (without the article) in a list. When referring to a saint, spell out that word unless space is limited; St. is the correct abbreviation. (When the word or abbreviation appears in a person’s name, honor the style that person uses.)

Most titles specifying one’s role in a company or organization are generally not abbreviated, but one exception is often made for the most senior executive, the CEO (“chief executive officer”). That title is often abbreviated without a full spelling on first reference, though titles for others, such as “chief operating officer,” who work in what is known as the C-suite (because the first word of the job titles for these people is chief, abbreviated with a capital c) are usually spelled out. (Specialized publications catering to an audience familiar with such titles often abbreviate them on first reference, however.)

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11 Responses to “Abbreviation with Names and of Titles”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Presumably this one had “Jeb” on his birth certificate: “Jeb Stuart Magruder” .
    For a moment, I had his first name confused with “Uncle Jed” Clampett, but he could have been Uncle Jedidiah.
    Jehoshaphat !
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Presumably, the name “Jeb Stuart Magruder was the official one registered on his birth certificate…

  • Dale A. Wood

    I am getting really irritated at typing “the”, getting “te”, and then your system steadfastly refusing to insert an “h” or anything else.

  • Dale A. Wood

    LOL, there is the question of Jeb Clampet, a fictional character, or was his name “Jed” maybe short for Jedidiah” ?
    Presumably, te name

  • venqax

    H

  • venqax

    Don’t forget John Ellis Busy (JEB) in your tour de jebery. I guess the lesson is “no one is really named Jeb.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    The historical figure James Ewell Brown Stuart (1833 – 1864) often had his name abbreviated as “J. E. B. Stuart” and he was habitually called “J.E.B. Stuart” or “Jeb Stuart”, and he inspired the naming of another, more recent historical figure, Jeb Stuart Magruder (1934 – 2014), who served President Richard Nixon during 1969 – 1973, part of that time as the director of CREEP – the Committee to RE-Elect the President.
    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeb_Stuart_Magruder

    It is interesting that one was born in 1833, and the other was born just over a century later in 1934.
    Then J. E. B. Stuart was KIA in 1864, and
    Jeb Stuart Magruder and President Nixon met their downfalls 110 years later in 1974.
    Then Jeb Stuart Magruder died at the age of 80 in 2014, 150 years after the death of J. E. B. Stuart at the age of about 30.
    ———————————————————————————–
    I have read a piece of fiction in which J. E. B. Stuart was not killed in 1864, but rather in 1867, he fathered a son whom he named R. E. L. Stuart for Robert Edward Lee Stuart… R. E. L. Stuart became an important diplomat.
    I think that the book that I read was published in 1965 – 100 years after 1865. Since then, more has been written on the subject by an author named Henry Turtledove.

  • Dale A. Wood

    To begin with French and Canadians:
    Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, twin cities along the border, named for the Sainte Marie’s River, named for Saint Mary (her name in English). Complicating matters are the twin Soo Canals and Soo Locks there, one on each side of the river, connecting Lake Superior with Lake Huron & Lake Michigan. So, “saint” isn’t always abbreviated “St.”, and “Sault” is pronounced “Soo”, and so is “Sioux”, and I live on “Sioux Drive” in a completely different state.

    Now for the British and English. For arbitrary reasons, most Britons do not believe in putting periods after these abbreviations, including Anglican abbreviations, professional ones, honorific ones, geographical ones, Catholic ones, and Spanish ones:
    Adm., Ave., Blvd., Br., B.S., Capt., Cmdr., Col., Cpl., Dr., Dra., Ens., Fr., Gen., Hon., Jr., K.G., Kt., Lt., Maj., Mr., Mrs., Ms., M.S., O.B.E., Ph.D., P.O., Pvt., Rd., Sgt., Sr., Sra., St., Ste., T.Sgt., V.Adm., and W.O. ,
    and I have my doubts about Sun., Mon., Tues., Wed., Thur., Fri., Sat., Jan., Feb., Mar. Apr., Jun., Jul., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec.

    Note that depending on the context,
    Dr. = doctor or drive; Sr. = senior, sister, or senor (Spanish),
    Mr. = mister, monsieur, or master; St. = saint or street.
    Fr. = Father or friar, unless there is a different one for friar.
    Also Br. = brother., Sra. = senora, and Dra. = a female with a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, optometry, etc.
    Getting deeply into military and naval stuff, there are exotic abbreviations of titles like
    SMSGT, CMSGT, SCPO, MCPO, SMCPO, FLTADM, GENOA, GENOAF, including ones that have not existed for a long, long time.
    For example, the last General of the Army was Omar Bradley,
    and the last Fleet Admiral was Chester Nimitz, who died in 1966.
    The only General of the Air Force was Henry “Hap” Arnold, who died in 1950.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I do not know why alarm bells and whistles are not going off there….

  • Dale A. Wood

    Apparently, you have forgotten all considerations on this subject on British English, Canadian English, and abbreviations in American English that came from French and Spanish – and also your Internet server is not cooperating fully, either. In fact, it is acting cranky…

  • Dale A. Wood

    Apparently, you have forgotten all considerations on this subject on…

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