Proper Names

Q. I notice in your online Q&A that you put a period after Harry S. Truman. I was told that there should be no period after the S, when I took a copyediting class decades ago, and doubted that, so I wrote to him. I have a letter from him saying that since it doesn’t stand for anything in particular, it does not take a period. Shouldn’t we go with his own stated preference? I’ll be glad to send you a copy of the letter.

A. Occasionally a celebrity can get away with demanding special treatment, but since editors cannot know the personal preferences of every person, we prefer to follow a guideline and apply it consistently. As it happens, I visited the Truman presidential library in Independence, Missouri, recently and noticed that the period appears on the building, on the grave-site marker, and in the brochures. You can read about this issue at the library’s website, where they explain that Truman himself was entirely inconsistent in using a period and may have insisted on its omission as a joke: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/speriod.htm.