In-text citation includes "et al." for a single author source (MLA 8)

I searched through the discussions, but couldn't find out if anybody has clarified this already. I have an entry of a chapter/book section by a single author, but the book's editors are listed in the entry to give me a bibliography output like this:

Churchland, Patricia S. “Toward a Natural Science of the Mind.” Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brainscience and Buddhism, edited by Zara Houshmand et al., Snow Lion Publications, 1999, pp. 18–31.

When I add an in-text citation, however, I do not have just the single author's name as (Churchland 24) but as (Churchland et al., 24). Is there something I should change in the metadata entry?
  • The MLA style is set to format it as just (Churchland). Can you confirm that the editors are entered in Zotero as “Editor” and not as “Author”. If they are, do you see the problem in a new empty document?
  • Hi bwiernik, thanks for your quick response. I have verified that they are marked as Editors. But I tried inserting the reference in a new blank document as you suggested and the entry was fine this time. I am not sure why it went wrong earlier in my original document.

    Anyway, a different problem cropped up since I am citing both Patricia Churchland and Paul Churchland in my work (not sure if I should create a new thread for this). So the MLA says that if the first initial is the name for two authors with the same last name, then the in-text citation needs to give the first name in full. The source of this instruction is here:

    But my in-text citations identify Paul M. Churchland and Patricia S. Churchland as (P.M. Churchland) and (P.S. Churchland) respectively. Is this a known issue? Is there any workaround for this?
  • In the earlier document, you may have cited a duplicate item or you may have deleted the item that was cited, so the citation was disconnected from your library.

    The page you link to says that just initials, unless the initials are the same:

    “Your in-text citations should always include the first initial along with the last name, or, if the first initials of two authors are the same, the full first name along with the last name…”
  • Well, then this is part of a greater problem that I have seen discussed here about the inconsistent naming styles of authors. I have three citation entries of the same author Patricia Churchland, one with a middle name, one with a middle initial and one with just the first name. Standardising it remains a challenge, especially because MLA wants author names to be rendered "as found in the source" in each case. I'm not sure how to disambiguate them. (Keeping names as is doesn't tell Zotero they are the same author, while combining them into one naming style messes us the final bibliography requirement.)
  • You should enter author names consistently in your Zotero library. That’s the only way they Zotero can know they are the same.
  • Thanks. Yes, I've been doing this, hoping to maybe edit the bibliography entries later manually if my supervisor insists.

    Anyway, an added edit to the problem I raised about the disambiguation.
    The "first initial" mentioned in this post for "C. Johnson" ignores the middle initial "S.":

    So I think MLA doesn't seem to take the second initial into consideration, though I am not sure how this would work out in the case of the Churchlands. Unlike APA, I feel full first names are given prominence in MLA and so "P.M." and "P.S." are not intuitively the best way to disambiguate the names.
  • It’s not possible for Zotero to omit an initial (this is a unique rule to MLA and frankly a bad idea—it increases ambiguity).
  • So I tried changing the names in the database to just their first names (omitting the middle initials) to see whether it makes a difference, but I am afraid it somehow made the situation worse. I only get two (P. Churchland) entries with no further distinction. I guess this would be a much more serious problem where authors have no other initial and the first letters are the same? Is there some way to get Zotero to use the first names for disambiguation in the in-text citation, maybe for MLA alone?
  • Let me be clear about what Zotero does here.

    Zotero will treat these two items as different people:
    Churchland || Paul S.
    Churchland || P. S.

    So, if you want them to be recognized as the same person, make them all Churchland || Paul S.

    Don’t store just the initials.

    Zotero will _never_ turn Churchland || Paul S. into “P. Churchland”. There is no code in the citation processor to eliminate one of the initials. If you have a citation coming out as “P. Churchland” then the initial isn’t in your item data.
  • I fully agree that it is working as expected. Sorry if my earlier post was unclear. What I was explaining was that I tried to take away the middle initial in the metadata of two entries "Paul M. Churchland" and "Patricia S. Churchland" to see how Zotero disambiguates the two in my in-text citations. (I made them "Paul Churchland" and "Patricia Churchland" as they are often inconsistent with the use of middle initials.)

    I ended up with Zotero not differentiating them at all on account of same last name and same first letter. Both were rendered as (P. Churchland). For these cases, MLA requires full first name in the in-text citation. I was seeking help on how this can be achieved.
  • It should differentiate, but I _really_ recommend against deleting things from your metadata to fit MLA's rule here. The middle initial is part of the author's published name (e.g., I would really not like to be cited without the "M." in my name), and MLA's rule increases ambiguity for the purpose of a very minor space saving. If your supervisor insists on only one initial, your best bet is to do a batch find-and-replace of "P. S." with "Paul" at the end of writing.
  • Thank you, that is sound advice. I'll try that!
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