What are the rules about abbreviating names that start with a vowel? Would abbreviating "Alanis Morissette" to "A. Morissette" be correct or should it be "Al. Morissette"?

  • 1
    If E. O. Wilson did it that way, it should be good enough for Ms Morissette.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 13, 2011 at 17:43

3 Answers 3


When abbreviating all kinds of names, the first letter is taken:

David Jones / D. Jones
James McKenzie/ J. McKenzie
Esther Hart / E. Hart
Otis Witherspoon/ O. Witherspoon

  • 3
    Then abbreviating up to the first consonant must be a Bulgarian thing. It's very common here. Aug 13, 2011 at 8:34
  • 2
    But see this question: english.stackexchange.com/q/34067/8019 Aug 13, 2011 at 9:54
  • That's true. The purpose of those abbreviations are to save time, but still informing the reader of what the name was. You see, if you just wrote "J. McKenzie", people wouldn't have known it was "James" or "John" or "Jonathan". The purpose of writing it "Jas. McKenzie" is when the author specifically wanted to inform the reader of the person's name. Otherwise, it's just abbreviated with the first letter.
    – Thursagen
    Aug 13, 2011 at 11:14
  • 4
    I think it used to be much more common to abbreviate more than just the first letter in standard English. If you read old books or correspondence from the 19th century you'll see it pretty often. Seems to be largely relegated to formal writing now though.
    – Phoenix
    Aug 13, 2011 at 11:30
  • 1
    Yeah, the special abbreviations for male first names ("Jos." for Joseph, "Wm." for William, "Chas." for Charles, and so on) seems to have dropped out of fashion about 100 years ago, and you see it today only in brand names struggling for twee olde-timey cred. Aug 13, 2011 at 17:26

In normal English usage, abbreviations of names are based only on the first letter as spelled. This is true for first, middle, and last names:

and regardless of pronunciation:

  • Philip /ˈfĭlĭp/ → P. (whereas Felipe → F.)

Therefore, you would abbreviate your example as

  • Alanis Morissette → A. Morissette

There are 2 exceptions I can think of.

  • First, nicknames may be formed irregularly; for example "McDonald" → "McD".
  • Second: in the most common transliteration scheme from Cyrillic to Latin, some Cyrillic letters get mapped to 2 or more Latin letters. When transliterating abbreviated names from Cyrillic, usually both are kept (only the first is capitalized). Example: Цахиагийн Элбэгдорж → Ц. Элбэгдорж → Ts. Elbegdorj

This only applies to transliterations from foreign languages. So, for example, in text written originally in English, Russian-American Sergei Khrushchev's name would be abbreviated "K.", not "Kh.".

  • 3
    I've also seen abbreviated Hungarian names in the form Gy. Ligeti or Zs. Gabor on scientific papers in English. This is because certain digraphs, such as cs, gy, ly, sz, zs, are considered single letters in the Hungarian alphabet (which is written in Roman letters and not transliterated). Oct 12, 2011 at 2:29

It's uncommon in the U.S. to use anything more than the first initial – consonant or vowel. However, one rare but interesting exception is when two players on the same athletic team share the same last name, and the same first initial. In such circumstances, sometimes the second letter is used to differentiate between, say, Michael and Martellus.

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