Should a character referred to by the initial of their name have a period or not?

If you were informally referring to a character by the first initial of their name, would you use a period or not? Is it stylistic choice, or is one correct? Would it differ whether you were abbreviating their first vs. their last name?
“Coach Q did not smile.”
“Mister Z. let me try it.”
“Hey, Big T! Great to see you!”

In many ways punctuation is always a stylistic choice. There will be plenty of people that will argue for each particular way. Periods usually denote abbreviations, so are any of those there an actual abbreviation?

Coach Q. did not smile.
Picard hated it every time that Q came onboard the Enterprise.

Punctuation is there to aid the reader so that should always be the primary concern, no matter what the grammar police say. Outside of the standard agreed rules, just make sure that you are consistent with your own usage.

Sometimes following all the various rules make things less readable…
Picard was the captain of the USS Enterprise.
Picard was the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Picard was the captain of the U. S. S. Enterprise.

Some people use a period in cases like this: Mr T. pitied the fool who would try to get him on the plane.
And like this: There are rumours that B. A. Baracus is more than happy to fly with a budget airline.
But as ‘Mr’ is an abbreviation there is also an argument for: Mr. T. was actually allergic to gold.

But the ultimate aim with any of those is to improve readability, so you’re not blending Mr Tinto the next word. Or reading Babaracus. Sometimes, especially when working on retro platforms with a fixed character width, omitting excessive punctuation, such as in the examples above, aids readability so can be excused.

As an extra note, in your example above; Hey, Big T!; the exclamation mark doubles up as a period. You wouldn’t put Hey, Big T!.


Another stylistic thing for me personally: Unless the initial moniker is rare, and this is read prose and not a stage-play or screenplay, I’d probably give the person a name that wasn’t denoted as initials just to avoid this:

TeeJay instead of T.J.
Mrs. Bea instead of Mrs. B.

Even if the names are technically printed as T.J and Mrs. B. I know it is weird but more visually pleasant to read over and over. Recurring names only - I wouldn’t go nuts to make FBI into “eff bee eye” unless I was writing dialogue for Hannibal Lecter.

This puts me in mind of the printed version of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw which has a multi-page disclaimer at the beginning simultaneously denouncing, explaining the rationale for, and an “I’m sorry if you are offended” apology for not using apostrophes unless absolutely necessary due to his dislike of how they look on a page.

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The character I have in mind is referred by his first name dozens of times. Sometimes with and sometimes without his title in front of it. I’d like to occasionally break it up by calling him [title] [first name initial], and my leaning is to not use a period after the initial, as it makes my eye think the sentence is stopping…
I just didn’t want to use something that would be considered blatantly incorrect by those in the know…

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Yeah, but notice how this sentence I wrote has an awkward stop with the period. It is the end of the sentence but it makes it potentially not since the following I is capitalized… As stated: do whatever makes the prose clear.

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If this is for a parser game, and if there is a chance the player will try to type the period, I wonder if it might confuse the parser to have the period in there, since periods can be used to separate commands. I haven’t tested it.


I think this may depend on the country you come from. In Australia, we use minimal punctuation for just about everything, so there is no period after an initial irrespective of whether it’s the given name or the family name. There are many, many advantages to doing it this way:

  • You don’t have to think about it.
  • It’s shorter.
  • There is never any confusion with the period making it look like the end of a sentence.
  • There is never any confusion with needing a double period at the end of a sentence.
  • There is never any need for a period followed by a comma.
  • And so on.

The only time you need to stop and think is when you are using two initials. Should they have a space between them or not?

Note that shortened words like Mr, Mrs and Dr are contractions, not abbreviations, so they shouldn’t have a period anyway. (A contraction is where the shortened word has the same last letter as the non-shortened word, e.g. Mr is the contaction of Mister. An abbreviation is where the last letter of the shortened word is not the same as the non-shortened word, e.g. etc. is the abbreviation of etcetera.)

I think the minimal punctuation is now used universally in libraries around the world. Can any librarians confirm that?

Finally, a period marks the end of a sentence when entering a command in parser-based interactive fiction. If you were to enter GIVE BISCUIT TO MRS. SMITH, it would treat this as two sentences. The first sentence (GIVE BISCUIT TO MRS) would most likely be understood, but the second sentence (SMITH) would complain that it doesn’t know the verb.


Over the years I’ve started omitting periods after most abbreviations in names: Ms Smith instead of Ms. Smith. To me, personally, it makes the sentences flow better. So I think I would be inclined to do the same thing for names: J R R Tolkien, George R R Martin.

As a bonus, this means you don’t need to worry about removing them from players’ commands in parser games!


Yes, it’s the George Bernard Shaw rule: if it won’t confuse the reader and there’s no ambiguity about the word, it isn’t necessary. His example for apostrophes was he’ll vs hell - two different meanings without it.

This of course is moot if you’re writing for hire or publication and you have a Style-manual that instructs otherwise.


I believe the period for Mr. etc. is mostly a US thing, but I’ve worked with many British secretaries, over the years, who also followed that rule slavishly. I do like the period after an initial in a name, myself.

One for the Doctor Who (or Dr Who or Dr. Who) fans: It’s Russell T Davies rather than Russell T. Davies. :wink:

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