initial letter

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Fast-food restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken is commonly identified by its initials—KFC. (Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)


An initial is the first letter of each word in a proper name.

Guidelines for using initials in reports, research papers, and bibliographies (or reference lists) vary according to the academic discipline and appropriate style manual

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "standing at the beginning"

Examples and Observations

  • Different Views on Spaces and Periods With Initials
    - "Most style manuals call for spacing between initials in a personal name: A. B. Cherry (not A.B. Cherry). There are no spaces, however, between personal initials that are not followed by periods (FDR, LBJ)."
    (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor's Handbook, University of California Press, 2005)
    - "Use periods and no space when an individual uses initials instead of a first name: H.L. Mencken."
    (The Associated Press Stylebook 2015. Basic Books, 2015)
    - "Although full first names with middle initials (if any) are preferred in most copy, two or more initials may be used if that is the preference of the person mentioned: L.P. Arniotis, with a thin space between initials."
    (Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, 5th ed. Three Rivers Press, 2015)
  • Initials in Bibliographies
    - "The practice of using initials to represent given names has been more common in Europe than in America or Australia. Various celebrated names are rarely given in any other form: C. P. E. Bach, T. S. Eliot, P. G. Wodehouse. In bibliographies and referencing systems (author-date-Vancouver), the use of initials is well established . . .. Both the Chicago Manual of Style (2003) and Copy-editing (1992) use stops after each initial, as well as space, as shown in the names above. But in common usage the space between initials is being whittled down (C.P.E. Bach, T.S. Eliot, P.G. Wodehouse) making the spacing exactly like that used in initialisms. . . . The practice of using an initial as well as a given name, as in J. Arthur Rank, Dwight D. Eisenhower is more widespread in the US than in the UK."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge University Press, 2004)
    - "[In APA Style, arrange] entries [in a reference list] in alphabetical order by the surname of the first author followed by initials of the author's given name."
    (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. 2010)
    - "[In a list of works cited in MLA Style] give the author's name as it appears on the title page. Never abbreviate a name given in full. If, for example, the title page lists the author as 'Carleton Brown,' do not enter the name as 'Brown, C.' But use initials if the title page does."
    (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. Modern Language Association of America, 2009)
  • LWV and AARP
    "Take the League of Women Voters. The group was founded in 1920 during a convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, held only six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. . . .
    "[T]hose at the state level say that some League officers would like to follow the lead of the AARP, now more recognized for its initials than for the stodgier and sometimes misleading name, the American Association of Retired Persons. The AARP made the change partly because so many of its members, who are as young as 50, are still working. 'We are working hard to put out the logo, LWV,' said Martha Kennedy, state membership chairwoman."
    (Kate Stone Lombardi, "Traditional Women's Groups Are Neither," The New York Times, Dec. 7, 2003)
  • ESPN and TNN
    "In 1985, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network became just ESPN, with no reference to the original meaning. . . . TNN was once the Nashville Network, then became the National Network when it deep-sixed its hootenanny programming."
    (Seth Stevenson, "Alphabet Soup: Now What Does KFC Stand for?" Slate, May 3, 2004)
  • The Lighter Side of Initials
    - "Fulgencio Umberto. The initials for that are F.U. Pritchett, which is exactly what it feels like right now."
    (Ed O'Neill as Jay Pritchett in "Fulgencio." Modern Family, 2013)
    Howard Wolowitz: Check it out. I used the atomic force microscope in the materials science lab and wrote our initials in a heart one one-thousandth the size of a grain of sand.Leonard Hofstadter: Oh-ho. That's cool.
    Howard Wolowitz: A micro-valentine for a microbiologist.
    Leonard Hofstadter: From her micro-husband.
    (Simon Helberg and Johnny Galecki, "The Tangible Affection Proof." The Big Bang Theory, 2013)