Duplicate Personal Names

How do catalogers distinguish between duplicate forms of personal names?

AACR2 distinguishes between identical personal name headings in several ways.

One of the most common methods is by adding birth and/or death dates:

  • Smith, John, 1924- Living person
  • Smith, John, 1837-1896 Both years known
  • Smith, John, b. 1825 Year of death unknown
  • Smith, John, d. 1859 Year of birth unknown
  • Smith, John, fl. 1893-1940 Years of birth and death unknown. Some years of activity known. Not used for the 20th century.
  • Smith, John, 12th cent. Years of birth and death unknown, years of activity unknown, century known. Not used for the 20th century.
  • Smith, John, 13th/14th cent. Years of birth and death unknown. Years of activity unknown, but active in both centuries. Not used for the 20th century.

Note that fl. (or “flourished”) dates are only used for pre-20th century persons. Flourished dates are not used after the 19th century. For living persons and for anyone who has died since Dec. 31, 1900, the heading should be based on precise dates.

If known, a date can always be added to a name even if there are no duplicate headings. This helps to avoid confusion in case a person with a duplicate heading appears in the future.


If the fuller form of a person’s name is known, then that can be used to distinguish between otherwise identical names:

  • Smith, Russell E. (Russell Edgar)
    • x Smith, Russell Edgar
  • Smith, Russell E. (Russell Eugene)
    • x Smith, Russell Eugene
  • Johnson, A.H. (Allison Heartz)
    • x Johnson, Allison Heartz
  • Johnson, A.H. (Arthur Henry)
    • x Johnson, Arthur Henry

If known, the fuller form of a name is preferred even if there are no duplicate headings. This helps to avoid confusion in case a person with a duplicate heading appears in the future.


If neither the fuller form of a name nor dates are available, then AACR2 allows a qualifier to be added at the end of the name, such as a term of honor, term of address, title or academic degree.

When choosing such qualifiers, catalogers select the term that provides the most distinctive identification of the person:

  • Brown, Georgia, Dame
  • Brown, Georgia, Rev.
  • Brown, Georgia, Ph. D.
  • Saur, Karl-Otto
  • Saur, Karl-Otto, Jr.

However, the Library of Congress (and therefore most U.S. catalogers) only use terms of honor, etc. for pre-20th century persons. For 20th and 21st century persons, only dates and fuller forms of the names can be used to distinguish people with identical names. Therefore, sometimes actual dates of birth are included to distinguish the names:

  • Smith, John, 1932-
  • Smith, John, 1932 Apr. 17-

The only exception to this rule is in the case of musicians. For musicians, the Library of Congress allows the use of a term designating the musician’s occupation:

  • Sawyer, Jenny
  • Sawyer, Jenny, violinist

There are instances in which sufficient information is not available to distinguish names. In these cases, the duplicate names remain listed without dates, fuller forms or qualifiers.

For more comprehensive explanations of all of the above, refer to AACR2 Sections 22.17 and 22.18 as well as to the corresponding LCRIs

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