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Sometimes I found that writing just "J. Doe" may lead, in a justified line with few words, to a big space between the initial and the surname. Using J.\,Doe looks ok but I would like to know if there is a general rule for spacing between initials and surnames.

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This seems to be “opinion based”; my opinion is that you need a full unbreakable space between the name and the initial. Between initials one can choose: either a full space or a thin space, but “no space” is out of the question. – egreg Sep 24 '13 at 10:50
I may have formulated the question so that it seems "opinion based", what I really meant was "a list of acceptable spacing options". Thanks for your answer – Bordaigorl Sep 24 '13 at 10:53
@egreg - While "no space" between initials should indeed not be employed in running text, it's fairly common practice in many bibliography styles that abbreviate given names down to the first initials. – Mico Sep 24 '13 at 11:52
@Mico Those bibliography styles do wrong. ;-) – egreg Sep 24 '13 at 12:12
Bringhourst suggest in The elements of typographic style (point 2.1.5) to use hair spaces or no spaces at all in after the intermediary dot (W.B. Yeats or J.\,C.\,L. Prillwitz). A normal word space (I would add nonbrekable) after the initial and the name. I believe that some styles even allow to suppress the period as in JF Kenedy (Probably only in bibliographies). – TeXtnik Sep 24 '13 at 12:18
up vote 10 down vote accepted

As often in typography, this depends a lot on your own taste. When you write, "sometimes I found that [...] a big space", you already got your answer. You should reduce the space with kerning, horizontal correction or, easiest way, a smaller space like \,.

The reason for the "too big space" is the dot after your abbreviation. The big white space above this symbol is sometimes distracting. That's why many abbreviations which have to be separated are typeset with a half space. In German e.g. we have z.\,B. and u.\,a.. In English, those abbreviations are often set together (e.g. e.g.).

The space after "J." is mandatory in my eyes, as you would set a space after "John" too. However, there is no international standard for this and for example in Switzerland, they often leave it off. E.g. "St.Gallen" on traffic signs. In Germany, the standard DIN 5008:2011-04 (chapter 5 page 10) requires a protected space ~ after each abbreviation with use of a dot. As this standard is about writing rules but not about typography, they don't mention the possible use of half spaces anywhere.

For a reference: F. Fossmann and R. de Jong write their initials with a half space in their book "Detailtypografie" and also recommend that on page 126. They are using round about 25 % of the DTP-em-dash or 20 % of the standard em-dash.

The last point would be the question if a line break would be acceptable. John\\Doe is quite easy to read but J.\\Doe may mislead the quick reader to believe that the sentence is ending at the line end.

In conclusion: I think J.\,Doe will be fine for most cases. But the problem expands when you want to write titles as well. E.g. Dr. rer. nat. Dr. phil. J. Doe. I think a nice grouping which depends on every case will help the reader. But there are no standards for this. I believe that I would write: Dr.\,rer.\,nat.~Dr.\,phil.~J.\,Doe. As mentioned in the comments, a line break may occur in long titles and names. As the period after a small letter is interpreted as the end of a sentence (which is indicated by a bigger space), you should at least prevent the stretching by use of \. This could look like Dr.\,rer.\,nat.\ Dr.\,phil.~J.\,Doe

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1st comment - sooner or later, especially in German titles, you may have to allow a line break - you could easily add a couple more there, with postnominals as well that could exceed your line length. I would stick with non-breaking small spaces until this became a problem though. – Chris H Sep 24 '13 at 12:45
2nd comment - I wouldn't trust road signs and related materials - the level of compression they require abuse grammar and spelling as well as typography (at least in English). – Chris H Sep 24 '13 at 12:46
@ChrisH You are absolutely right about both topics. About the road signs: I just remembered that matter out of my head. I will try to find some reference, if this is Swiss style or missing style – LaRiFaRi Sep 24 '13 at 12:51
Thanks @LaRiFaRi this is an excellent answer addressing all the points I was interested in. I particularly like the style you present in the last paragraph, it is principled, elegant and looks good on paper – Bordaigorl Sep 24 '13 at 14:56

I usually use


to create an "unbreakable space", keeping the space fixed even in justified paragraphs and preventing line breaks.

This is also useful after abbreviations like e.g., i.e. and so on, where Latex thinks of the dot as the end of a sentence and adds too much space after the dot.

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Does ~ influence the spacing or just the breaking? I thought it is the same as a normal space but without line break? I will have to try that for justified and ragged text blocks. – LaRiFaRi Sep 24 '13 at 12:38
@LaRiFaRi According to The Not So Short Introduction to LaTEX 2ε, chapter 2.6, it simply creates an "unbreakable" space, i.e. it prevents line breaks as well as enlargement of the space, for example in a justified paragraph. – pederpansen Sep 24 '13 at 12:45
A period after an uppercase letter will not be interpreted as an end-of-sentence period, because the spacefactor code of uppercase letters is set to 999 and the current spacefactor never jumps to a value above 1000 in one step. In any case, ~ uses \ (control space) that uses the unextended interword space anyway. – egreg Sep 24 '13 at 13:01
@pederpansen Thanks, something new, I learned today. To be more concrete on this topic: LaTeX does not think that the period is the end of a sentence, when it is written behind a capital letter (as always for initials). Preventing space stretching behind small letters (e.g. "Mr. Doe") is done by \ , additional unbreakable behavior with ~. – LaRiFaRi Sep 24 '13 at 13:05
@egreg (and LaRiFaRi) Thanks for the hint it is NOT interpreted as the end of a sentence in this case, edited the answer accordingly. – pederpansen Sep 24 '13 at 13:10

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