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For the first 11 years of my career, I worked as an academic in my home country. I moved to the United States two years ago to begin a new faculty position at a flagship state university. During these 13 years, I have used my full name as my "academic" name (as would be the usual practice). However, I have noticed that a number of my English speaking colleagues find it hard not to snicker at my name. And I do not entirely blame them. They do not mean to be impolite: my native language name sounds like a rather crude phrase in English.

Although this is not my name, the Korean name Yu Seok Beom 유석범 (You Suck Bum) is an example of such a name. (Unfortunately, my name sounds like a much more vulgar phrase in English than just "you suck bum.") I have considered going by my initials, however I have had a few journals that still would highly prefer I use a non-initial name to identify myself ("for indexing purposes"). Furthermore, my initials plus my surname create only a slightly less crude variant of the vulgar phrase my full name sounds like, so the issue is not fully solved.

My latest idea is to begin using an English name that sounds good with my surname. However, I fear that this will create confusion as to my academic profile. I have numerous papers and connections in which I am known by my actual name. I do not want to lose 13 years of academic name recognition (not that I am that famous).

How should I handle having an academic profile built on a name that sounds like a vulgar phrase in English? Should I just proceed forward and embrace the fact that my name sounds like I am spewing an obscenity, or should I try to build a new era of my academic career with a new name?

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    Since you already posted a few revelations about horrible things in your university, please take care that this post does not reveal too much about yourself so that bad people who know you can not recognize you.. – user111388 Aug 5 at 19:47
  • @user111388 That would be an interesting exercise in futility. – Vladhagen Aug 7 at 15:01
  • ORCiD id plus initialising after the first usage with your full name? Then indexing is sorted, the full name and the initialised version both get attached to the ORCiD. – David Roberts Aug 8 at 7:29
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A difficult question to answer as, ultimately, this is quite personal. It is "what are you willing to put up with" mixed with "how much of your own personal identity do you ascribe to your name"?

I have a colleague who has had (at least) three different names during their academic publishing career and no one knows how to cite their work: do we convert publications under old names to new names? I also constantly have to tell students and other scholars "that's the same person...". It isn't great. Perhaps if you have a colleague that has changed their name due to marriage or other circumstances, you might discuss with them their experiences of building a profile anew.

One thing is for certain: if you don't change the name you use, you'll be memorable to the readers of your work. You'll come to mind before Jane Smith and John Jones.

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One alternative is to just accept it and try to educate your colleagues that the whole world doesn't revolve around them. I have a friend from Vietnam whose name is X Phuoc Y (family name then a two syllable given name). It is a very common name there, actually, and has an unfortunate English pronunciation. In everyday life she goes by the other part of her given name (Y) only as a sort of nickname, but professionally she used (retired now) the whole name. As with many people from Asia, she has a three syllable name - as the Chinese typically do. In China, of course, using only part of your given name would be thought improper, I understand.

Westerners will "eventually" get it, one hopes, but only if they are exposed to the richness of the whole world.

For the record, Phuoc (or, more properly, Phước) means roughly "blessing" or "lucky".

However, I encourage academics to keep a stable public image, including their professional name. I actually recommend that anyone with a hoped-for academic career choose that "persona" before graduating from their baccalaureate. This puts all official records under the same name, making future applications easier. This isn't possible for those who consider it later, of course, and many people change names relatively frequently compared to others. I've kept a name, other than my birth name, for such reasons and my "desire" to go back would be very disruptive if implemented. I realize that moving from one culture to another makes this sort of issue difficult, of course.

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From another perspective, consider that a lot of names that native English speakers in the US have could be embarrassing out of contexts.

Surnames like Fuchs and Butts, Dick as a nickname for Richard, potential references to male anatomy like Johnson and Peter, and combinations of all of the above. A well known baseball player and coach is named Rusty Kuntz. I'm sure there are many others that have an additional meaning if you also consider other languages.

Adults are expected to deal with these names professionally. I won't claim that they do, nor claim that more "foreign" names are not more susceptible than others to a snicker. That said, anyone who made such a comment out loud would embarrass themselves more than anything.

You might consider initializing a "middle" name even if it's really part of your given/surname as a less drastic step or to use a nickname when instructing students, but otherwise I think it's fine to keep a name that might imply a particular phrase. Ultimately, though, the choice is yours.

  • I'm wondering if it's possible to come up with an Anglicized, less-problematic nickname that would still be recognizable as the original first name. – Elizabeth Henning Aug 6 at 18:16
  • @ElizabethHenning Or sometimes changing the phonetic representation can change the way an English speaker would mispronounce the name to another, less problematic, way. Likely if the surname is preserved, initials stay the same, and the names are all similar enough, it would be easier to preserve a publishing history than a more substantial change. – Bryan Krause Aug 6 at 18:26
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Well, women academics end up dealing with this often, as many more women take the name of their husband upon marriage (and tend to go back to their birth name after a divorce). Persons who transition from one gender to another also have this problem if they change their first name to match their presenting identity.

We do have ORCID-IDs now, a number for an academic so no one cares how many names they have had. I would choose a first name that "fits", tell everyone about it, make sure you have all your publications listed on your home page, and include a sentence about "former name" perhaps in your application.

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