Being known by your initials

What was going on with the 19th Century to early 20th Century [American] trend of people being known by their initials? For example, were I a cafe owner in 1919, I would hang out my shingle as “R. D. Osborne, Omeletologist”.

I see this all the time when I come across old newspaper articles. The article will be going on about some big event, or about somebody’s business, and it seems as if all of the references to individuals use the initial-initial-surname format:

“The new warehouse on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street was built by the general contracting firm of A. B. Collins & Sons. The building was commissioned by X. Y. Zeigler, due to the recent increase in business his feather duster business has seen since the Great Northern railroad established a new route through the business district. Said X. Y., 'With this new warehouse, I have space for all the feather dusters I’ve ordered in anticipation of increased demand.” A minority share of the feather duster business is held by P. D. Quigley."

Why did they do this, and why did it go out of fashion?

Its easier to say and you don’t have to pay the sign painter as much. I worked for a sign painter while in high school and that is what he told me. It is the same with names that are shortened such as Wlm, Rbt, and Sml.

I know of a person named Julius Peirpoint but prefers to be known as J.P. Lets see who’s first to know who I am referring too.

Morgan…wasn’t she on the Gong Show? haha

Nah, J.P. Morgan was an industrial robber baron back in the day.

Anyway, I can understand the initials as a cost-saving measure on signs, but what about the newspaper references. I also see an awful lot of songwriting credits from that period (mostly hymns) where the songwriter’s/composer’s names are initial-initial-surname. And poets. And authors.

Even modern references to people from that era often use the initial format, though I think in some cases we now simply don’t know what the person’s actual name was… because every reference to them we can find uses only initials!

This was a Britishism for a long time, reaching well into the 20th century. Upper class Americans - the kind who had their names in the papers in the 1800s - tended to be Anglophiles and adopted many of their mannerisms. (Initials were common no matter how many you had. Lincoln signed all of his non-official documents with just A. Lincoln. And then there’s that J.R.R. Tolkien guy.) It passed out of favor in the U.S. during the general modernization of customs after WWI.

Now we just have to figure out why the British did it for so long. :slight_smile:

Not archaic at all. I insist, locally, on being known by my initials: BH. Or else, just by my first name.

Peej. Call me Peej…

My second son is known as “B.C.”, since we share a name. Of course, this also means he gets called “Bob Caveman”.

Like anything, I would guess it was just a trend, like bell bottoms or afro hair styles.

Another trendy use of initials is attorneys…

If I see another “J. Richard Hoity, Esq.” or “K. James Toity, Esq.” I think I’ll puke.

What about the initials trend of the 1990s? Where did that come from? After over 20 years of having Crosby, Stills and Nash suddenly we had CSN . New Kids on the Block of the 80s became NKotB . Bel, Biv, DeVoe became BBD . Saturday Night Live became SNL . Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC .
The whole thing seemed quite strange to me.

Julius Pierpoint :smiley:

Thank you Google - as a Brit I’ve never heard of him!


The company itself changed the name for what they thought was a good reason:

“In the early 1990s, the company officially changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC in an attempt to “disguise” the word “fried” – which Early jokingly contends is considered a four-letter word by many consumers.”

I also heard that the state of Kentucky decided to trademark the word “Kentucky” and increase state revenue by licensing the name to businesses. Kentuchy Fried Chicken didn’t want to pay, so changed the name to KFC. Can’t seem to find a cite for that, though.

My dad has only initials for a first (and middle??) name. They don’t represent any two names ( I think they do, as the name of both me and an uncle are derivitives of the same name, but the family always said they didn’t stand for anything.)

He was born in '25, for a time reference.

'Cause it didn’t happen. Under U.S. trademark law, no one can just “trakemark” a word and then charge people to use it. In order to get a trademark, you have to show that you are using it in commerce with respect to particular goods or service. I’m sure that Kentucky Fried Chicken must have registered their trademark long ago with respect to fast-food restaurants. Plus, under U.S. law, a governmental entity does not automatically have exclusive rights to a geographical designation.

All the people I have met who do this do it because they normally go by their middle names instead of their first names. If James Richard Hoity goes by “Jim” then he’ll write “James R. Hoity.” If he goes by “Dick,” then he’ll write “J. Richard Hoity.” It’s perfectly reasonable.

Use of initials is still common in some contexts – academic journals (mainly from outside the U.S.) seem to refer to authors as “V.I. Salnikov” or “P.Y. Hausmann” pretty consistently.

Crosby, Stills & Nash became CSN [and then CSNY after Young joined] and Saturday Night Live became SNL about, oh, a week or so after people first heard their names. This was a bit before the 90s. (Perhaps also before you were born?)

Yeah, people “initialize” band/show names because they simply don’t like long names.

What’s wrong with using your initials?

I am from North Carolina and it is a common practice there to name a child with two letters.
A friend of mine went through Army basic training with N M Smith. Because all his paperwork said he was N(only) M(only) Smith, he was known as “Nonly-Monly Smith”.

I’m with you, j.c.