I just saw a tag get "corrected" to imply that there's space between the initials of an author who doesn't put spaces between her initials. In fact, neither JK Rowling nor the Tolkien Estate use initial spaces, and neither do most sources referring to them, but we do: , (Wikipedia, btw, DOES use initial spacing and seems to be regularly violating their own policy in the process).

English style is, of course, inconsistent on the subject. Any way we choose will be applauded by some style guides and reviled by others. My problem is that a new tag was invented out of the blue and made dominant over an existing one, in order to adhere to a style guide we haven't actually chosen yet.

The way I see it, we've got three basic options:

  • Standardise by author's choice and have internally inconsistent tagging practices, or
  • Standardise our tagging practices and have tags that don't reflect common reality about how authors' names are written, or
  • Stop worrying and learn to love the bomb.

I'm not entirely sanguine about any of these but I'm not sure we need a firm tagging style guide at this point anyway. Thoughts? Suggestions? Please.

  • FWIW, I custom-flagged a question in private beta for a CM to rename a tag like this. It was done. In this case, there was a comment pointing it out, so I edited it. – Mithical Mod Mar 7 '17 at 21:57
  • @Mithrandir I think if you made the aj-hall tag a synonym of a-j-hall rather than deleting it, this wouldn't be an issue. – Catija ModStaff Mar 7 '17 at 21:58
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    @Catija - when you type aj, guess what tag comes up? – Mithical Mod Mar 7 '17 at 21:59
  • @Mithrandir that's not the same thing as a synonym. – Catija ModStaff Mar 7 '17 at 22:00
  • @Mithrandir Synonyms are nice, but you invented a new tag just to match a protocol nobody'd agreed on yet, and then made that new tag the dominant one. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 22:01
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    @Catija - imo, there's no need for a synonym. The system won't let you create an [aj-hall] tag if there's already an [a-j-hall] one, unless you have a diamond. – Mithical Mod Mar 7 '17 at 22:02
  • @BESW - because that's what we've been doing, and consistency is to be desired... – Mithical Mod Mar 7 '17 at 22:03
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    @Mithrandir It's the first time I've noticed the practice, and I don't think consistency without consensus is desirable. Where's the meta deciding we need consistency in author tag structure and that this is how we should do it? If it's something a handful of people have been doing by fiat, that's... not cool. It means we don't know what the common popular tagging structure might have been and we can't learn from that, because instead we've got somebody's undiscussed idea of what tags ought to be. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 22:04
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    ...right here, apparently... – Mithical Mod Mar 7 '17 at 22:06
  • @Mithrandir Excellent! So please don't say "that's what we've been doing, and consistency is to be desired" as if it's something the site's already talked over. It's bad enough that we've got no idea what a natural tagging system might've looked like because a few people took it into their hands to be the Tag Police, without using that to justify it retroactively. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 22:09
  • @BESW That so-called 'Tag Police' IS part of the natural evolution of the site. Those people are site users, and their edits to questions are part of the everyday processes of the site. Or does your idea of "letting things evolve naturally" not count tag edits made to other people's questions? – Rand al'Thor Mod Mar 7 '17 at 23:05
  • @Randal'Thor I think it's part of the site's pattern of jumping the gun on tagging structures, and that saying people are doing it so it's okay for people to do it is patently absurd. My meta-side challenge of a main-site edit choice is also part of the everyday processes of the site, which apparently folks--including at least one moderator--think is unnecessarily interventive. I find that ironic. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 23:11
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    I haven't thought about or voted on this topic yet, but consistent tagging has been discussed on other sites before. It seems that Yodeyans embrace inconsistency (although of course these are different sites etc etc) eg meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/679/5323 + meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/1857/5323 – Shokhet Mar 8 '17 at 3:33
  • @Shokhet an important difference between author names and transliteration schemes from other languages is that for the former there is (potentially) somebody with an authoritative opinion about what is correct, and in the latter there isn't. Different communities (or individuals) transliterate the same Hebrew word in different ways and, broadly speaking, they're all right. (I don't actually care what this site does about author names, but since you shared that comment with Mi Yodeya, I followed you here. :-) ) – Monica Cellio Mar 8 '17 at 21:32
  • @MonicaCellio That's true. I was just drawing attention to those meta posts so that Literature users wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel, if there's anything there that's relevant here. I do realize that the two sites are different; your's is certainly an important distinction to make. – Shokhet Mar 8 '17 at 23:49

We should be consistent within the site.

Whatever we decide in the end, let's do the same thing for all authors. That way, we know immediately how to create a tag for a new author Z. Q. Smith without having to know anything about this specific person and how they cho(o)se to write their name, and even new users can see how such tags should be made by looking at existing precedents.

Now, what should our consistent policy actually be? To use spaces or not to use them? Well, as our friends at ELU can show us, there's no real consensus among the linguistic/writing community on how to do this: the accepted answer on the linked question advocates using spaces, but the highest-voted answer advocates not using them. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say:

let's use spaces between initials in tags.

Regardless of whether you want to say J.K. Rowling or J. K. Rowling or even JK Rowling when writing in text, the fact remains that the "J" and the "K" represent separate words - let's respect this in the tag name. If we wouldn't use , let's not use . This is consistent with what's been done so far, at least with all such tags that I've seen.

  • Thoughts on whether I should split this into two answers? It's hard to tell whether up/down votes on it are votes for the proposal of consistency or the proposal of using spaces. – Rand al'Thor Mod Mar 7 '17 at 21:30
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    While theoretically sound, I don't see this as very practical. New users won't be looking for precedent in making tags (they won't be able to!) and I've never seen ANYbody put that much thought/research into a new tag that wasn't artificially created for curation's sake. Standardising doesn't make it easier to search (just go to the tag page and type the last name) and just gives us more work to do on a site which is already considering unusually heavy curation of its tagging. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 21:32
  • @BESW By "new users", I meant people who might have 150+ rep but still not know much about site policies or be involved in meta. – Rand al'Thor Mod Mar 7 '17 at 21:33
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    The point stands: are folks who aren't into site policies or meta really going to be looking for patterns that imply site policies on tagging? I think it's unhealthy to constantly force our tags into our ideas of usefulness as soon as they begin to deviate, because it keeps us from learning from the tagging system as it emerges. What real problem the site's suffering from are you solving with this solution? – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 21:53

Consistency for its own sake is a waste of time, yours and ours.

When we say consistency is good, we mean to say, we think being consistent will improve the system in some way. But we can't just leave it at that: we have to elucidate exactly what benefit is conferred. "Consistency" for its own sake confers no benefit. Once we've established that consistency is worthwhile, however, then making everything consistent is definitely useful. Until then, unless some specific benefit to consistency is elucidated, then it doesn't exist for its own sake.

It goes against intuition, a sense of what's right and proper, to say this. But that's all it is: a sense. It's not a metric of actual impact to the site. Making everything consistent for no clear, specific reason doesn't do much more besides give us something to pat ourselves on the back about: "We sure made something consistent today."

In this case, tags exist because people find them useful. Questions fall under tags because those are the tags people found. Since their efficacy is directly measurable by their frequency of use, we should not assume that one will be universally better than the other. We should instead wait until a clear leader emerges, and synonymize as appropriate.

Later on, if it's clear one practice is superior to the other, we can synonymize and merge as appropriate. Doing that work now or doing it later is still the same amount of work. The tag system is very flexible in this regard.

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    You can't have both versions of the same name... as Mith pointed out above, creating tags that are the same like that is only possible for mods, so the only one that would exist is the "first" one created. That's not really a very worthy way of telling which is better. – Catija ModStaff Mar 7 '17 at 23:22
  • @Catija Hadn't considered that. Will think. – user80 Mar 7 '17 at 23:32

I'd like to answer about J. K. Rowling specifically.

On the cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, American English edition (by Scholastic), she has her name written as "J. K. Rowling". On the British version (Bloomsbury), it's written as "J.K.Rowling" on the cover, probably as a fancy heading, but "J. K. Rowling" inside the book.

Deathly Hallows, American cover

It is true that in some contexts, such as on Twitter or her new homepage, she has her name written as "J.K. Rowling" these days. However, this is a website about literature, so we should primarily care about the name her books are published under. Thus, I think the tag for her name should be . (We can have tag synonyms of course.)


As anyone who knows me will be unsurprised to hear, I suggest that we let tagging practices grow organically and not "fix" tags where syntax style is the only "problem."

Where multiple tags for one author blossom naturally, we naturally want to select one as most right so folks can find all the questions about a particular author. This is simple: we can use synonyms to point toward the most commonly used and/or most author's-choice-like existing tag without inventing extra new tags when the users have already provided some.

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    I'm sorry but some sort of guidelines need to be had or else the tagging system will have to go through an overhaul to make it consistent. Tagging systems need to be useful, so it's much better to have a guideline in place so that when a bad tag is created, the mods and high rep users can make the proper one and make the bad one a synonym. This process isn't permanent. If it's decided to go with a different pattern at some point in the future, that's still possible. – Catija ModStaff Mar 7 '17 at 21:44
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    @Catija Consistency is nice, but prodding the tagging system into line every time it begins to deviate from some theoretical ideal of usefulness means we'll never learn what's actually organically useful. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 21:50
  • That's why the tagging system is great... all of the options are possible. If someone makes a "bad" tag according to the system the site decides on, it can stay, it's just not the primary tag. jk-rowling and j-k-rowling are both possible and acceptable. The only thing to decide on here is which is the standard option. – Catija ModStaff Mar 7 '17 at 21:53
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    @Catija Choosing the primary tag by some conceptual armchair process and then saying "but you can use the other and we'll change it for you" is not the same as letting it come out through practical use. Mith created a whole new tag just to match a structure nobody'd agreed on. – BESW Mar 7 '17 at 21:59

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