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This question is very nearly a duplicate to "Taking an academic pseudonym?", however, my name is already sufficiently unique, and I am wondering if it makes sense to use a pseudonym even if I don't need to? (Perhaps this is too subjective for stackexchange...)

I have a (potentially unfounded and/or irrational) fear of publishing on my official name, which is also the name I use in social situations. This is partly since I am at-present "un-Google-able" and I'd very much like to stay that way. I'm thinking about this a lot now since I am soon going to publish my first paper, and I know that it's important to have a consistent academic identity.

Suppose my full name is "Sheldon Lee Cooper", and I normally go by "Sheldon Cooper". I've been thinking I could publish under "Lee Cooper", and then Googling "Sheldon Cooper" would still return no results. I'd use "Lee Cooper" on my academic webpage too, and I would ask to submit my PhD under this name also.

Alternatively I could publish under "Sheldon Lee". (As in this answer.)

This is like Tony Hoare, who's full name is Charles Antony Richard Hoare. Note that Googling "Charles Hoare" gives very different search results.

My academic research is focused on a niche area of (pure) mathematics, so am I being irrational in wanting to remain somewhat anonymous on the internet? Should I acknowledge that publishing niche mathematics is unlikely to harm my reputation and just publish under my legal name as-is? Or does it makes sense to publish under my middle and last name, or even an entirely unique pseudonym? What are the advantages and disadvantages either way?


Some related questions I've seen on academia.stackexchange include:

Pen name similar with real name: Zu Yangzu instead of Zu Yang for papers
This is about having a unique name. My name is sufficiently unique in either variation.

Is it possible to be known in academia by a different name?
Short answer: Yes.

If I publish under a pseudonym, can I still take credit for my work?
Short answer: Probably yes, though not fully anonymous in that case. This will become your academic identity.

Separating academic identity from social identity
My scenario differers in that I currently have no Google results, and if I publish under my own name then that will become my Google results. If I take up publishing erotic novels then I am in a position to do that under a pen name that doesn't conflict. So I don't already have a different identity conflicting, as the author of this question does.

Choosing my name as an author when publishing a scientific paper, can I use my “unofficial” first name?

What are reasonable alternatives to changing your name for academic publishing when you have a common surname?

Taking an academic pseudonym?
This is very similar to my question, the key difference being that the author has the motivation of avoiding confusion with other people who have a similar name. My only motivation is fear of being Googled easily (in a non-academic context). Is that fear irrational?

  • If you are planning to have/already have a PhD, does this mean that your name from your dissertation and degree will be different from the remainder of your published work? – Kevin Miller Apr 9 at 15:52
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    In case you didn't already know about it, and at the risk of really panicking you, there are sites such as the Mathematics Genealogy Project and ProQuest that could derail your attempts. In fact, many departments list their Ph.D. graduate using full legal names, or at least the names used on Ph.D. dissertations. By the way, +1 for the detailed info. with "Some related questions I've seen on academia.stackexchange include". – Dave L Renfro Apr 9 at 16:35
  • @KevinMiller I do not yet have a PhD, I would ask for my thesis to have my academic name on it, and my certificate would naturally have my full legal name (of which my academic name would be a subset). – freddy Apr 9 at 17:02
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    I do actually hope to have an Erdős number after publishing --- What I brought up had essentially nothing to do with one's Erdős number, but I guess that's another list you could be on. However, unless your Erdős number is 1 or 2, or you get famous enough to be listed here, that's not likely to be a problem. In fact, my Erdős number is 3 (by several routes), but googling some just now out of curiosity, I wasn't able to find a way to prove this (using 7 or 8 variations of my name) without listing an explicit paper path. – Dave L Renfro Apr 9 at 17:25
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    I will go as far as to say that I know some people with an Erdős number of 2 who are not listed on that Wikipedia page, but can easily be verified via mathscinet.ams.org/mathscinet/collaborationDistance.html and Google Scholar. – freddy Apr 9 at 20:11
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So your question is "am I being irrational in wanting to remain somewhat anonymous on the internet?" The answer is that in the end it is your trade-off. There is benefit to keeping private and professional live separate, but I have been able to so to my satisfaction while not hiding from Google & Co. To me the effort I would have had to put into this (for me it is too late now) was not worth the benefit, but preferences differ between individuals.

When you make this decision try to get an idea of what kind of effort you will have to maintain in order to maintain your online cover and what the potential downsides are if people find it hard to find you. Also try to get a list of all the bad things that can happen if your cover is blown, i.e. what horrible things will happen if Google knows who you are. If you have those two list you can decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the costs.

  • +1. It seems like if I start now, using a variation à la Tony Hoare would have minimal effort. That said, the only "bad thing" I can think of happening is that Googling my legal name returns some of my academic work. Beyond that I don't know of downsides to my cover being blown. This is partly why I wonder if my fear is irrational. – freddy Apr 9 at 17:10
  • A variation in Tony Hoare style is not necessarily incompatible with having my full name on my PhD, though it would reduce the anonymity somewhat. There is a precedent for a PhD student in my department going by his middle name (though he did so everywhere, not just in academic publications). – freddy Apr 9 at 17:12
  • @freddy "It seems like if I start now, using a variation à la Tony Hoare would have minimal effort." Don't underestimate that, it will require constant vigilance. Either you will completely switch to your new name for all occasions (private and public), which defeats the purpose, or you will have two names that you need to keep separate at all times. Moreover, you will not always be in complete control over what name is used in large bureaucracies like universities, and your "wrong" name may well end up on the university website without your knowledge. – Maarten Buis Apr 10 at 7:40
  • "[...] complete control over what name is used in large bureaucracies like universities [...]". My legal name is already on the departmental website. I guess I'm not expecting the division to be perfect, and I'm hoping the department will be willing to use my pen name where I ask them to. – freddy Apr 10 at 11:36
  • I am accepting your answer – either I will just publish under my legal name, or I will use a variant of my legal name (à la Tony Hoare), without worrying too much about not having a perfect division. As you said, it's a trade-off, and I guess I have to figure out exactly what trade-off to make for myself. – freddy Apr 10 at 12:38

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