The politics of reference lists

It is surprisingly common to have standards for reference lists which abbreviate the given name of the author thus:

Karlgren, J. 2008. "Gripe about insensitive style sheets". Journal of Rants and Soap Box Lectures.


This just happened to me, in a book chapter I submitted with complete names: someone along the line reduced the authors I had chosen to cite to mere initials. This practice is very objectionable for several reasons:


  1. It is difficult to do well. Many languages are weird and exotic in the sense that they do not conform to West European practice: they do not have their given name first. Chinese is one of them, just to pick one out of the hat. This risks editors and authors to make stupid mistakes. Is Mao Zedong to be abbreviated Mao Z. or Zedong M.? (The former is "correct".) In fact, my reference list happened to contain such an error.
  2. It increases ambiguity. There is but one living J. Karlgren publishing research articles as far as I know, but this could change: there are several J. Karlgrens, and there have been others around before me. There is but one Jussi, though. There are millions of people named Li and Chang. Many publish scientific texts.
  3. It hides the gender and ethnicity of authors which is a disadvantage to lesser represented groups of people. It makes the author less of a person.
  4. It is ugly.



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