I'm publishing my first ever paper in my career. Given my name is Aaron John Sabu, how should it be broken into the first name and last name?

Also, what should I write when asked for the [Initial][Surname] format?

NB: Aaron is my name, Sabu is the name of my father and John his father. Also, I do not have a proper surname since it is not part of our custom.

  • 7
    Might be relevant to mention here the name by which you are registered at the university, and any other legal name. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 23:45
  • 18
    Congratulations on your first publication and a successful Stack Exchange post (which some people consider even a bigger accomplishment)! You might want to add your country or region as a tag, if it's available. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 23:45
  • 4
    I looked at your profile and saw that you're at IIT. Impressive! I added the tag "India", although I realize it's a large country with many different naming conventions. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 23:47
  • 2
    What is on your passport? The MRZ tells you what the government is using as your "surname" and "forename"
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 14:20
  • 3
    Note if you had only one name, it would go in the "surname" field of your passport. Since you have three, it's likely they've been divided between the two fields.
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 14:24

4 Answers 4


Aaron is my name, Sabu is the name of my father and John his father. Also, I do not have a proper surname since it is not part of our custom.

I suggest adopting Sabu as your surname, Aaron as your given name, and John as your middle name, or some variant of that. I think this is advisable, because you'll regularly be asked for your surname and given name, and sometimes your middle name or it's initial. Such an adoption will simplify administration. That said, I appreciate that you might want to follow your customs, rather than those of others.

In terms of publishing,

  1. Pick a name you'll use forever.

Your name is your brand. It's how you'll be identified.

  1. Pick a name that is unique (or at least rare, especially to Google).

A unique name is easier to find.

You might decide upon Aaron Sabu, Aaron J. Sabu, or Aaron John Sabu, for instance. Google each and see if it is unique or rare.

From comments:

As pointed out...there is no obvious choice that will send the message that you want to be called Aaron and cited as Aaron et al. That choice just doesn't fit well in the conventions of the Western naming culture, unfortunately

I disagree, S. J. Aaron or J. S. Aaron could be used (an initial could also be dropped). Citations will appear as Aaron et al. and there seems only to be an option of calling the OP Aaron.

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    Another possibility is Aaron John-Sabu, with a hyphen. That would suggest that Aaron is the name and John-Sabu the 'surname'. People will cite you as John-Sabu et al. rather than Sabu et al. with all other options. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 12:49
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    (As pointed out in user2173836's comment, there is no obvious choice that will send the message that you want to be called Aaron and cited as Aaron et al.. That choice just doesn't fit well in the conventions of the Western naming culture, unfortunately). Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 12:53
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    Good point on J.S. Aaron, that seems a great option. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 13:51
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    @AaronJohnSabu unfortunately I would expect people to cite that as "A. John-Sabu", unless you've specifically told them otherwise. It's very unlikely anybody (who doesn't know you and isn't familiar with your cultural background) would understand that "Aaron" is the part you wish to have displayed in full, rather than seeing it as a first name and "John-Sabu" as a family name (i.e. the typical format of names in English-speaking countries) - especially as Aaron and John are both common names in English-speaking countries.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 7:29
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    @AaronJohnSabu ah, ok - in that case, yes: if you're fine being cited that way, then Aaron John-Sabu is certainly a suitable way to write your name.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 7:43

@Buffy's and @user2768's answers raise good points to consider when choosing.

I'd like to recommend in addition: Get yourself an ORCID and use it. An ORCID is a unique identifier that you can keep, however you may later on decide to change your name again.

ORCID allows several names, they say the only one really required is the first names (which can also be multiple first names) in order to also work for cultures like yours. So you could leave surname blank and actually keep your name as it is.
You can also specify how you'd like to be cited (I'm not sure how many look this up, though. But literature data bases should hopefully get that right), and you can even give also-known-as names.

As a side note: while it's good to think a bit which name you like to use, it's not that you cannot change it if it turns out not to work as well as you thought. If you use an identifier like ORCID, this won't even lead to confusion whether it is still you.
(And people in western culture do change their surnames as well, e.g. when getting married or divorced.)

It's not that western cultures don't know patronyms (usually with some change, e.g. prefix or suffix meaning son/daughter, diminutive or genitive). In many western countries they meanwhile became family names but AFAIK in Iceland it is usual (and Denmark possible) to give children a proper patronymic or matronymic name. They put the patronym/matronym as surname - so if you don't know the name of the parent, you don't notice the difference between a proper patonymic/matronymic or one that meanwhile became family name.

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    And Wales. The form "Dafydd ap Iolo" ("David, son of Iolo) is the type of full name some people use. There is no family name in such a usage. If Dafydd ap Iolo wrote a paper then he would use that full name, and certainly would not tolerate being indexed as "Iolo, A. D.".
    – JeremyC
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 22:34
  • @cbeleitessupportsMonica did that now with pleasure! Thanks!!! Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 4:49
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    @JeremyC: wouldn't the abbreviation/indexing be "ap Iolo, D."? And AFAIK, that's what Icelandic or Danish people with patronymic/matronymic do: the patronymic is their surname (but not family name). What I don't know is whether this is just because it would be too tedious for Anders Andersen to tell everyone to list them as Anders rather than Andersen because it is the proper patronymic - while Jens Jensen next door is Jensen because its the family name... Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 9:53
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    @cbeleites In Iceland, patronyms are the default, with a comparatively smaller number of people having family names, and in Icelandic listings, people are listed by their first names; so Þór Birgisson is listed as such. In Denmark, your surname is your surname, regardless of whether it’s a family name or a patronym; so Anders Hansen is listed as “Hansen, Anders”. The main difference is that patronyms have been very rare in Denmark for over a century; family names are ubiquitous. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single Danish person with a patronymic surname. Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 16:55
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: many thanks Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 22:51

Actually, you have a lot of freedom to do it as best pleases you. You could even create an alter ego (as I have here) under which to publish.

But there are two constraints.

The first is that you probably want to choose a name that you will be happy with over your career, so that people won't get confused by seeing different names from the same author.

The second is that you want people to be able to find and connect with you. Mostly that will be via email, I suspect, but if someone calls up your university and asks for you by your public persona name it should be easy to reach you personally.

If you just use the name you have used here, few people outside your own culture would even notice and just assume that your "family" name is Sabu. Some names in Western European culture arose in just that way. Others arose from peoples occupation (Taylor and Smith, for example). But people might also want to refer to you as Professor Sabu, rather than Professor Aaron, which you might prefer.

But, don't worry that there are conventions that restrict your choices here. Assume that you have control over your own name.

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    people will also cite the paper as Sabu et al. which might not be what OP wants. However, since Aaron and John are reasonable common first names, i can see how choosing the surname to be Aaron, it will just get miscited as sabu anyway Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 12:34
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    You may wish to consider which variations are more unique than others. A. John may be more easily confused with others in your field than A. Sabu...you might want to survey prolific publishers in your field to create a more distinct combination. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 21:10
  • Stage name (Wikipedia) Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 23:46

A surname is used to identify family. From your tradition, you get your fathers name and his father's name to identify family - as far as I can understand.

I suggest that you merge your two last names with a hyphen: Aaron John-Sabu. In that way you pay respect to both your father and grandfather, and you will have a unique name. I am sure you can live with this forever. Which, as User2768 pointed out, is a nice perk for a chosen name.

  • Thanks. That's my final conclusion as suggested by others as well such as @FedericoPoloni Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 14:28

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