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November 29, 2012

The Finer Points of APA Style: When Authors Have the Same Surname



Anneby Anne Breitenbach

There really is a certain satisfaction one gets from knowing how to use a tool correctly and well. That’s as true of an editorial style as it is of a lathe or a chisel. Like a well-made tool, APA Style has been crafted and honed for a specific purpose, in this case, “to advance scholarship by setting sound and rigorous standards for scientific communication” (p. xiii). Part of that communication for authors is to be sure to be as clear as possible about who their sources are. Thus, we’ve developed rules for distinguishing between sources if there is any risk that they might be confused. And using those rules correctly pleases me.

The reason behind them is clear, but the need to apply them is rare enough that using them is a skill. Let’s make sure you know how to use them too.

The Publication Manual says this: “If the reference list includes different authors with the same surname and the first initial, the authors’ full first names may be given in brackets” (p. 184).

Thus, if you cited Danny Thomas’s biography Make Room for Danny and Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, your reference list entries would look like this:

Thomas, D. [Danny], & Davidson, B. (1991). Make room for Danny. New York, NY: Putnam. 
Thomas, D. [Dylan]. (1954). A child’s Christmas in Wales. Norfolk, CT: New Directions.

You would also want to distinguish between the two references in your in-text citation by using both first and last names. Your format would be (Danny Thomas, 1991) and (Dylan Thomas, 1954).

For further information on how to order references by authors with the same last name in the reference list, see our posts on Citing the Recurring Author With Crystal Clarity and Order in the Reference List!

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