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(This is a followup to the answers of Is ‘Th.’ in a name a short form of Theodor?, hoping to learn more details than are given there.)

It’s quite common in German for first-name initials to be given as multiple consonants, not just a single letter: e.g. Th. for Theodor, Thomas, etc., Chr. for Christian, Ph. for Philipp, and so on.

What are the rules/conventions/connotations for this? Is it seen as formal/old-fashioned, or is not doing it considered as markedly sloppy/anglicised? When using it, does it apply to certain traditional names only, or to all names with suitable beginnings? Is there a consistent rule of whether it applies just to di-/tri-graphs (e.g. Ch., Ph.) or to all consonant clusters (including also Chr., St., etc.), or certain particular clusters?

I’ve searched around a bit, but haven’t found anywhere properly discussing this convention. But my German is rather rusty, so at least for German-language sources, my search has been quite superficial.

(Of course, this isn’t unique to German; it’s used similarly in Dutch, and to some extent in many other languages. I’m interested primarily in its use in German, but sources describing the convention in Dutch would be better than nothing, insofar as Dutch and German typographical traditions have been quite closely linked historically.)

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    I cannot proove this, but there seems to exist a tendency not to split transcriptions of aspirated greek letters (φ χ θ = ph ch th; possibly even ῥ = rh, although that is extremely uncommon in names). – phipsgabler May 4 '20 at 16:10
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I assume that use of more than the initial letter is an attempt for disambiguation, i. e. to exclude more probable alternatives. So P. alone would likely default to Peter, so if you have a Philipp in mind you may resort to Ph., Th. would exclude Tim (but still allow Theodor, as observed, in addition to Thomas I consider as most probable).

In older encyclopedias (in the internet found e. g. here Brockhaus Konversationslexikon) plenty of material can be found. Here J. is assumed to expand to the most likely Johann(es), so if you would like to abbreviate Joseph you would resort to Js.

Unfortunately the approach falls short, since it requires the knowledge concerning first name distributions for the respective region and time interval on the side of the reader. Since space required for printing is no longer an issue in times of electronic representation, I would recommend to use the full name. (It may still be possible, that being forced to use information from an old quote, nothing beyond the abbreviation is available.)

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The only common sense I experienced: whatever you would do - while more then 3 letters are not considered an abbreviation.

In my personal experience it depends on situation:

  • How many persons have to be listed at all?
  • What criteria exist do differentiate between "Th. Schmidt" and "Th. Schmidt" as Thomas and Theodor?
  • Are there any persons with same name or how likely is it?
  • Does the target audience derive from a huge pool and still is limited to 5-10 persons being addressed?
  • What is "common sense"/cultural norm for the writer?

The "lower" end is a list among friends, e.g. you have a barbecue and note down who adds which part.

  • There I prefer to have as many letters as it is necessary to get an "unique ID".
  • Th. and Th. would be to less - hence it is colloquial, so any nickname abbreviation is sufficient.

The "upper" end are finisher lists in sport competitions like a marathon with 50k persons.

  • There the name is no unique ID - that is fulfilled by any thinkable numbering system, like M101 & F101 & C101.
  • There is also a strict 1 or 2 letters, I never saw 3 - and definitly no exceptions.

In between everything is possible. Like:

  • first letter only; T. Schmidt & C. Schmidt,
    • e.g. because there is also lastname/the writer has no time/finds it clearer
    • might be added with additional keys like department or company - and then only in cases where it is unclear who it is
    • T. Schmidt (Well known, plc)
  • first two letters only, Th. Schmidt & Ch. Schmidt,
    • e.g. because the writer does so
  • until first vocal; Th. & Chr.
    • e.g. because the writer writes in "sounds"/there is no last name written down
    • and any additional vocals to identify: Tho. & The.
    • or instead adding last name abbreviation: Th. S. & Th. L.

I see "until first vocal" as common in family context, "first letter only" in business context. And "first two letters" usually in competition lists. While any gender abbreviation is part of another question :-)

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