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I guess this is not very common as I have not encountered it yet, but would it be to my disadvantage if I published as "Initial of the First Name - Middle Name - Surname". For context, I'm a graduate student and I'll be starting my PhD next month. So far I've always published using my name in full. However my first name sounds very obviously foreign to speakers of English and most European languages, while the same cannot be said for the second.

So I've been wondering the following:

  1. Would publishing with my full name in local journals and only my middle name in other international publications create confusion in the future even with an ORCID account? Is it more advisable to be consistent?
  2. Is it bad for citation purposes to publish under a name that starts with an initial?
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    How would you like to be introduced at a conference? How would you like to be addressed by (potential) colleagues? My opinion is that a lack of consistency between the names you use in different academic situations could be the biggest downside.
    – Chris H
    Sep 8, 2023 at 9:58
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    Also I have a vague recollection of an eminent scientist who did this. Dropping the first initial altogether is harder to spot, and reasonably common
    – Chris H
    Sep 8, 2023 at 9:59
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    I'm not sure why an "obviously foreign sounding name" would be a problem.
    – Buffy
    Sep 8, 2023 at 12:29
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    @Buffy unconcious bias would be one potential problem. Sep 8, 2023 at 14:36
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    Apart from some minor hurdles, the author of this article seemed to have quite an illustrious career jstor.org/stable/23912844
    – llama
    Sep 10, 2023 at 2:20

8 Answers 8

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Actually, you can publish under any name you like as long as you don't engage in fraud by, for example, using the name of some prominent person implying you are them. However...

I urge you to choose a name, whether your given name or not, and stick with it through your career. This will avoid confusion, though there are solutions. An ORCID identifier is helpful, but still (IMO) a bit awkward in practice.

However, since you have already published under your given name I suggest you just keep doing that. My (personal) advice is to celebrate who you are, whether your name "sounds" foreign to others or not. I find some joy, actually, in names that aren't boring/common as my given name is.

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    Thank you! I guess I was correct to worry about lack of consistency. As for worrying about my first name sounding "foreign", I am mostly concerned about implicit and unconscious bias that unfortunately exist in academia, but that's a good point.
    – ofthelake
    Sep 9, 2023 at 18:35
  • Or legally change your name? I would if I thought my name had any probability whatsoever of impacting my bottom line. Except it loosely translates to foreman and I do construction, so.... - Where would someone be from that an implicit and unconscious bias exists in academia against them? India? China? Not AFAIC if you want to be a doctor. You wanna teach? Then no, sorry; can't understand you. - It sucks that this is a thing, but to ignore it outright would be a silly way to play the hand.
    – Mazura
    Sep 9, 2023 at 23:17
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    @Mazura My mother published under her maiden name, even after getting married and legally changing her last name. If she were to publish today, she would probably still publish under that maiden name (indeed, she produced an illustration for my phd thesis several years ago, which was signed with her maiden name). Even if a person changes their legal name, they often continue to publish under their old name. If you want to be recognized, it is generally best to pick a name and stick with it. Mar 10 at 22:22
  • Idk, Buffy is a pretty cool name ;) Mar 12 at 15:40
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If I see two papers in the same area by people with the same initials and surname, I assume they are the same person unless there is evidence to the contrary. Most people will routinely abbreviate names to initials + surname in bibliographies anyway, with the same outcome in both cases. So IMO this shouldn't cause a problem as long as you publish as F. Middlename Lastname (and not just Middlename Lastname, which looks like a different person). As always, the more authors there are with your surname, the more likely it is to cause a problem. An ORCID should help with anything that indexes you automatically, provided the journal has a space for it.

As for 2, no I don't see that this is a problem at all. Indeed, many people publish routinely as F. M. Lastname. It's difficult to find people who publish mainly as F. Middlename Lastname, although I found some examples where this is one of several forms the person has used. (These are people known by their middle name in everyday life, such as Timothy Gowers; see references in that article.)

In my experience, the main danger here already exists in the form you have previously been using: for both F. Middlename Lastname and Firstname Middlename Lastname, it might be unclear where your surname begins. You might find some people put you in a bibliography under M rather than L. If Middlename is something commonly used as a given name, this is probably less likely to happen.

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    F. Scott Fitzgerald is an author who immediately springs to mind using this convention, but it's pretty uncommon, I can't really think of another Sep 9, 2023 at 20:27
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    I suspect it was more common a century or more ago than it is now — but you probably know some of W. Somerset Maugham, L. Frank Baum, H. Rider Haggard, L. Ron Hubbard, F. Paul Wilson, L. Sprague de Camp, etc. (I expect many authors used it as a way to reserve their first name for personal acquaintance, separate from their public persona.) If OP had started out using a name in that form, then it would be fine as you say; it's the change of professional name that could be problematic.
    – gidds
    Sep 10, 2023 at 21:29
  • More recently, but not an author (at least, I don't know if he has published texts), there's M. Night Shyamalan, though I have yet another caveat that "Night" isn't his original middle name.
    – muru
    Sep 11, 2023 at 8:25
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    @Trish Yes, it often happens that something could easily be a given name or a surname. Particularly unfortunate when it happens for Hungarian names, where it might not be clear which name order is being used! But if the choice is "it's a middle name" versus "it's part of a two-word surname", the former is much more likely. Sep 11, 2023 at 10:27
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    In mathematics, Brian Conrey is a well-known analytic number theorist. His first name is John, and he publishes under J. B. Conrey (57x), Brian Conrey (23x), J. Brian Conrey (17x), John Brian Conrey (5x), or B. Conrey (2x), per MathSciNet. Sep 11, 2023 at 18:49
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Speaking as someone who publishes under "F. Middlename Surname", I have never had any issue with publishing papers with my name formatted in this manner (in maths, if it makes any difference). So I think 2. will not be a problem for you.

Overall, I would just second the advice of several other commenters, to pick a format that you like for your name and stick with it. This applies not just to your name on papers, but also to name badges for conferences and the name you use in academic life: people will want to be able to connect your papers to you, and this is much harder if you introduce yourself as "Firstname" while you publish under "F. Middlename Surname". (If I see someone publish under "F. Middlename Surname", my first assumption is that they -- like me -- are to be called by their middle name.) So decide first how you want your academic colleagues to actually call you, and then choose how to write your name based on that.

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There are two risks to your strategy, and they are sort of opposites.

Firstly, people may assume that the two different versions of your name refer to different people. ORCID can help a little bit in this regard, but you can't expect everyone who encounters your name to look at your ORCID.

Secondly, people may be aware that the two names refer to the same person, and try to "correct" one to the other. The most likely "correction" is that people who are aware of your full name will refer to you by that name (in citations and in other places) even when they mean your "international persona".

There is considerable debate about whether the people "correcting" your name would be wrong to do so (see, for example, the answers to this question). Regardless of whether it is appropriate to do so, however, you should keep in mind that people likely will do it, at least some of the time.

I would therefore recommend against using different names in the way you suggest.

To explicitly answer your questions:

  1. Yes, publishing under different names is still likely to cause confusion.
  2. It is not necessarily bad to publish with a starting initial, but be aware that people will sometimes attempt to replace the initial by the name it stands for when citing you.
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I have published with several colleagues who use their first initial and their whole middle name, ie, P. Middle Familyname.

You can use OrcID to make sure that your works are properly attributed, but if you're publishing in the same area and your first two initials are the same in all your pairs, people will likely assume those papers are published by the same person.

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The problem with names is that there's so many of them people.

There is a good reason why Donald Ervin Knuth has spent probably thousands of hours tracking down the full name of every author in the bibliographies of his books, including names in native alphabets in addition to Latin transliterations - e.g. Japanese names in a Japanese alphabet next to Latin.

Ideally, always use the full name for disambiguation, and criticize citation styles that insist on initials only (if someone insists on that silliness).

That also means that you should use your full name.

However my first name sounds very obviously foreign to speakers of English

That's a "them" problem, not a "you" problem. We live in a global society. Non-English names are way, way more common on Earth than English ones. That's also the case in academia I'd bet.

Of course, nowadays with DOI global identifiers, it's easier to at least unambiguously refer to a publication. But whether the data associated with that DOI has enough to fully disambiguate the author is another story.

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This is a great question. My recommendation would be for you to look ahead into the future after you have a lot of papers published and then think about how many papers have different names that you have used. This is a standardization issue, for which the variability of your author name should not be "all over the map." On the downside, the worst that could happen during a future faculty job interview could be that you are asked e.g.: "your publications seem to use a different name a lot, so can you explain that?"

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In my experience academia is generally fine with this name format, the problems usually come with the edge cases where academia interacts with the rest of the world.

For example, suppose you're J. Edgar Hoover and known as Ed Hoover. That's all fine, until you go to a conference and the hotel registration insists you are John E. Hoover. Maybe the conference reserved the hotel room for you as Ed Hoover but that's not what's on your passport. Perhaps you need to apply for a visa but the letter of invitation to J. Edgar Hoover doesn't match the embassy system which expects Firstname Lastname (no middle name, because that's the way $country thinks everyone does their names). Maybe an industry conference asks for your full name for the visa and then prints your badge as John Hoover.

These are all tolerable minor annoyances. But it helps to develop a strategy for filling in academia-adjacent forms like this to head off potential glitches.

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