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For example, Bill Henry Gates, which of following is right?

Bill H.Gates
B.H. Gates
H.G. Bill
Gates Bill
B. Gates
H. Gates
BHG
HGB
GHB
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Surely he would be referred to using "William" rather than "Bill" in these cases? –  delete Aug 13 '10 at 2:47
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@Shinto Yes, with Microsoft Bill, his name certainly is William. But there are many people who are called "Bill", and not "William". –  Vincent McNabb Aug 13 '10 at 3:37
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In English, names are usually written in the format:

[First given name] [family name], e.g.
John O'Reilly

Sometimes they are written:

[First given name] [other given names] [family name], e.g.
John Timothy O'Reilly

When using initials, it is the same, e.g.

J. O'Reilly, or
J.T. O'Reilly

But it is also very common, in certain situations, e.g. school roll (high school, university tutorial list etc.) to put the family name first, but this is posted with a comma, e.g.

O'Reilly, John Timothy

And in other places, e.g. an index, it is done with initials instead, also with a comma:

O'Reilly, J.T.

When doing three letters in a row, it is almost always the given name first, then the family name, e.g.

JTO

For John T. O'Reilly (that's another common way to write names).

Bill Gates' TLA (three letter acronym) would be:

BHG

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If that is the Irish name O'Relly, JTO is not suitable, the correct initials are JTO'R. If really pressed for a one letter initial for a surname, the letter would be R, never O, just as the initial for de Villiers is not d, even when de is capitalized. –  Remou Feb 4 '11 at 16:37
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In English, the family name is always given last (except in the case of transliterated names which confuse many people).

In your example, "Bill" and "Henry" are his two given names; if you used only one given name, it would be the first one, "Bill". "Gates" is his family name.

Thus, the following are correct:

  • Bill H. Gates
  • B. H. Gates
  • B. Gates
  • BHG
  • Bill Gates
  • B. Henry Gates (rare unless the person in question has made it clear that this is his preference)

And all the others are incorrect.

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I think perhaps you're confusing monograms with initials.

Initials are always listed in the same order as they would appear in the name: the initials of William Henry Gates are WHG, the initials of Bill Gates are BG, etc.

Monograms, on the other hand, combine the initials in an aesthetically-pleasing way. A common method is to put the last name's initial in the middle, and the first & middle names on the left and right, respectively. Almost always, the last initial (the one in the middle) is larger than the other two. The monogram of William Henry Gates could thus look something like:

wGh

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If you see something along the lines of "E. Annie Proulx", it probably means the person prefers to be known by their middle name. As others have said, the surname is usually last and to present names in surname order you would probably write something like "Proulx, E. Annie".

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