The MLA Handbook is widely used in academic writing. And in this post, we’re going to look at how to write author names in MLA referencing. This will include both using names in the main text of your essay and in the Works Cited list, plus a few important variations.
Author Names in the Text in MLA
The first time you name someone in your work, MLA style suggests using their full name exactly as it appears in the work you’re discussing. After that, as long as its clear who you’re referring to, you can just use the surname:
The most famous modern pessimist was Arthur Schopenhauer. Born in Danzig on 22 February 1788, Schopenhauer was noted for his…
But there are two key exceptions! One is for individuals so famous that they’re identifiable by a surname alone. For instance, if you wanted to mention William Shakespeare in your writing, you could simply say “Shakespeare” since most readers will instantly know who you mean.
The other key exception is parenthetical citations. In this case, you only need to give the author’s surname in brackets, along with a page number:
This thought experiment was dubbed “Twin Earth” (Putnam 701).
And if a source has three or more authors, you should only give the first author’s name, followed by “et al.” (a Latin phrase meaning “and others”):
Harold Garfinkel et al. document this process in detail (133–38).
The process is documented in detail (Garfinkel et al. 133–38).
This helps to keep the main text in your essay clear and concise.
Author Names in the Works Cited List
When compiling your Works Cited list, you will need to include the names of the author(s) for every source you’ve cited in your work.
The main thing to remember when doing this is to give the names of the first author for each source surname first. This is so you can list sources alphabetically by author surname. For instance:
Garfinkel, Harold, et al. “The Work of a Discovering Science Construed with Materials from the Optically Discovered Pulsar.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences, vol. 11, no. 2, June 1981, pp. 131–58.
Putnam, Hilary. “Meaning and Reference.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 70, no. 19, Nov. 1973, pp. 699–711.
As shown above, you should use “et al.” for sources with three or more authors here, too. This ensures that the name you give in the Works Cited list matches the one you have used in the citations.
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Pseudonyms in MLA
If an author is best known for writing under a pseudonym (i.e., a pen name), you should use the pseudonym when discussing them. If a pseudonym is formatted like a regular name, you can use it in the same way (i.e., give it in full on the first use, then just use the surname subsequently):
Lewis Carroll is most famous for writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. However, Carroll also wrote a range of literary…
But non-traditional pseudonyms (e.g., Film Crit Hulk) should be given in the same form as shown in the source. For instance:
In his blog, Film Crit Hulk explains…
In addition, in the Works Cited list, you can give the author’s real name. You can see examples of entries for two pseudonymous works below:
Carroll, Lewis (Charles Dodgson). Alice in Wonderland. Wordsworth Editions, 2018.
Film Crit Hulk. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Female Filmmaking.” HULK BLOG!, 16 Mar. 2018, https://filmcrithulk.blog/2018/03/16/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-female-filmmaking/.
Finally, if an author has published work under a pseudonym and their own name, or two versions of their name, include a “see also” note:
Bachman, Richard (see also King, Stephen). The Long Walk. Signet Books, 1979.
King, Stephen (see also Bachman, Richard). The Dead Zone. Viking Press, 1979.
The key is to make sure your pseudonyms are clear! This applies both in the main text of your essay and in the Works Cited list, as shown above.
Titles and Suffixes
MLA style suggests leaving out titles and suffixes in names (e.g., you’d write “Samuel Johnson” rather than “Dr. Samuel Johnson”). This applies both for the main text of your work and entries in the Works Cited list.
The one exception to this guideline is when a suffix is required to identify the person you mean. So, for example, if you were writing about country music dynasties, you would keep the “Jr” in Hank Williams Jr and the “III” in Hank Williams III to differentiate them from the original Hank Williams.
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