Different journals have different standards regarding author names - some mention only the first name (i.e. "William Webb"), some mention also an initial of the middle name ("William A. Webb"), some mention only initials ("W. A. Webb"), etc.

So, when I copy BibTeX records of papers to my bibliography manager, the names are copied in different styles, and also appear in different styles in my bibliographic listing.

My question is: is this a problem? Should I go over all my bibliography, each time I write a paper, and make sure all names have the same format?

  • 6
    I keep full names in my bibtex files for exactly this reason.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 7:04

5 Answers 5


Let me cite Donald Knuth (from this webpage):

Do you know any of these people?

[...] I try to make the indexes to my books as complete as possible, or at least to give the illusion of completeness. Therefore I have adopted a policy of listing full names of everyone who is cited. For example, the index to Volume 1 of The Art of Computer Programming says "Hoare, Charles Antony Richard" and "Jordan, Marie Ennemond Camille" instead of just "Hoare, C. A. R." and "Jordan, Camille."

I also think that a database with complete names is the way to go. The more complete the names are, the less ambiguous (consider all the different "A. Smith's", "X. Zhang's" or "H. Kim's"…).

  • 1
    I love the fact that you cited Harry Kim. Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 14:15
  • 1
    I like to use full first names, but I"m not sure Knuth's approach is optimal. In addition to knowing that the man's name is "Charles Antony Richard Hoare", it would be useful to know that he's called "Tony". Notice also that Knuth uses this sort of completeness in indexes, not in bibliographies, which were the subject of the question. Commented May 12, 2014 at 18:39

No, you shouldn't change your bibtex database every time. Bibtex converts automatically from its native format "Surname, Firstname I. and Other, Author" to whatever the journal style is (for instance: F Surname, A Other), as long as you have full names in the database. Name formatting is something that people often get wrong at first when they have little experience with bibtex.

So you should aim for having full names in the database, at least for those papers that you need to cite with an unabbreviated first name. Everything would be easier if all journals used initials, but it's a tough world.

I suggest initials for theses, preprints and submissions, and only switch to full names after the article is accepted in a journal that demands them (and after being asked by a copy-editor that demands them). This is the solution that minimizes the workload on the author.

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    Small correction: "Everything would be easier if all journals used the same format". It doesn't really make a difference as long as everybody uses the same format. If I had to choose one, I'd choose full names, this minimises the information loss and makes disambiguation easier. I am personally confused with more than 7 authors in social networks (e.g. researchgate) because we all share the same initial and surname. Everything would be easier with URIs that work as URLs.
    – Trylks
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 16:28
  • 1
    I see your point, but I have already spent hours in the past trying to look up the first names of the authors of a pre-internet-era journal article that had only initials in the author field... Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 18:36
  • @Trylks However, you have people who insist on only initials being used, to some extent. Therefore someone is ever A.B.C. Smith, and someone else is ever Donald E. Knuth etc.
    – yo'
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 10:37
  • @tohecz if it was for me, researchers would be identified with the ORCID or an equivalent alternative. Given names and surnames make for poor IDs.
    – Trylks
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 16:38

If you're using BibTeX, then this should automatically be taken care of through choice of the bibliographystyle.

If you are not using BibTeX or a similar package, then you should go over your references to make sure they're consistent with the papers you've cited. However, you're under no obligation to find the full names of authors if they've published the papers with their initials instead.


The issue here is surely more that journals' bibtex export styles are highly inconsistent. Many output the names in a similar format to what they would print. So if you want full names and have only got initials, you're in for a few hours of tedious hunting and retyping. In other words you'd have to really want full names. If you have control over the format, pick a style with initials only, I suggest. The journals I have published in use initials (and don't even print the paper titles or give clickable links) in the references, so having a mixture of formats isn't an issue


I would personally just leave the formats as is, because

  1. Some people feel strongly about having their names displayed in a certain way.
  2. It would be a huge hassle to find full names of all the authors that you cite.

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