I use Emacs/Auctex/Biblatex/Jabref and encountered the following problem: If I have more than four citations, separated by comma, in a \parencite, the citations suddenly are shown with the abbreviated first name:

With 4 citations it looks like:

Arnott and Rowse 2009; Arnott and Inci 2006; Arnott and Rowse 1999; Arnott 1998

With 5 citations it looks like:

R. J. Arnott, Palma, and Lindsey 1991; R. Arnott and Rowse 2009; R. Arnott and Inci 2006; R. Arnott and Rowse 1999; R. Arnott 1998

Is this a bug or a feature?

  • 4
    I think it thinks that there are two different Arnotts here: R Arnott (author in all our first four citations) and RJ Arnott (author of Arnott, Palmer and Lindsey). It's adding initials to disambiguate these two (in its mind) distinct individuals. To switch it off use the option uniquename=false. Mar 11, 2014 at 18:51
  • 1
    Welcome to TeX.SX! Please help us to help you and add a minimal working example (MWE) that illustrates your problem. It will be much easier for us to reproduce your situation and find out what the issue is when we see compilable code, starting with \documentclass{...} and ending with \end{document}.
    – doncherry
    Mar 11, 2014 at 18:51
  • Thanks Paul, this was causing the error. uniquename=false did not resolve the problem, but adding J. to the other entries resolved it. Mar 12, 2014 at 9:41
  • @moewe As you suggested, done. Mar 16, 2014 at 9:14

1 Answer 1


What you are seeing is to do with the way that biblatex tries to identify whether names are "unique" or not. It has nothing to do with the number of citations. What triggers the change is the arrival of "R J Arnott" on the scene, to join "R Arnott".

You don't say what style you are using, but I'll demonstrate using the standard authordate style. Suppose we have the following MWE:

  author = {Jones, R.},
  title  = {Titular Sees},
  publisher = {PubCo},
  date  = {1900}}
  author = {Jones, R. L.},
  title = {Titles of Nobility},
  publisher = {PubCo},
  date = {1901}}

We have a .bib file with two works by someone called Jones, one with the initial "R" and one with the initials "R L". These may or may not be different people.

However, so long as we cite only one of them, we get just the surname:

Jones 1900

Now if we change our citation so that we cite

\cite{jones:1, jones:2}

We get something different:

R. Jones 1900; R. L. Jones 1901

That's perfectly reasonable. There's no way for biblatex to "know" that this is the same person (even we can often not be sure).

However, if we think it's wrong, there are two things we can do. The first is to set the option uniquename=false when we load biblatex. With that option set in the standard authoryear style, the same citation now gives us

Jones 1900; Jones 1901

In an author/year style biblatex will still be sensible enough to add necessary disambiguation. For instance, if we add an entry for Dr B Jones's work, also published in 1900, and uniquename is false, we would then get labels of "Jones 1900a" and "Jones 1900b" (whereas if uniquename is true, we don't need and won't get the additional letters, because the initials already disambiguate).

The second possibility of course is to change our bib entries so that they are absolutely identical, at which point biblatex will no longer attempt to distinguish them. So if we change the author of jones:1 to Jones, R. L., then even with uniquename=true we get

Jones 1900; Jones 1901

In general, though, I think that a bibliographer would be chary of this solution. Strictly speaking a bibliography should accurately record the information as contained in the published book, and "silently" adding or removing initials is suspect. I daresay however that you can get away with it.

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