I have a paper that I want to cite in my own work, in the form "J. Wayne" (for John Wayne) in the bibliography part of the paper and Wayne in the body of the paper.

The full name of the author appears on the paper as Aaaa Bbbb Cccc, and is typically a non-western name. Say, consider something like John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but let's assume you never heard of them, and they obviously are from a different culture, and you don't know if their last-name is Kennedy or Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Should I note it in my Bibtex file as Kennedy, John Fitzgerald or Fitzgerald Kennedy, John ? This will change things when printed with last-name only, it will appear either as Kennedy or Fitzgerald Kennedy.

So, more generally, is there an academic naming convention for this kind of situation ? Edit: To be more precise, what I want to know is if there is a standardized way for an author with such a name to sign his paper, for example Aaaa Bbbb-Cccc, so no ambiguity is left for the reader. Or for the reader, if one has a guaranteed way to know this (seems not).

I must add that I have seen the considered author cited as Bbbb or as Cccc, one of these being obviously incorrect (even both could be).

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    So the question is really "How to find out if it's a compound name?" rather than "How to handle a compound last name?" Commented May 9, 2014 at 15:31
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    This can get arbitrarily complicated depending on the background of the author; for some, there is no clearly defined last name. If Google or domain-specific literature databases are no help, and you really care, you could always send the person in question an email asking how they would prefer to be cited. I'm sure the effort would be appreciated. Commented May 9, 2014 at 15:43
  • @Christian Clason: yes! I re-edited the title to reflect this.
    – kebs
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:04
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    Thanks, it's much clearer now. (You could also remove the reference to Bibtex, since you already seem to know how to correctly indicate the last name there.) Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:13

3 Answers 3



(aeismail has already addressed nicely how to deal with this, but what follows is too long for a comment.)

As far as I know, there's no standard way (i.e., the same for every name no matter the culture) of indicating which components of a name are considered to be the last name. In fact, even the concept of last name is different from culture to culture and may even be absent -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Names_by_culture. Even in Europe, you can get quite complicated naming systems. So you are really trying to identify the "main professional name", whatever that may map to in a given culture. To identify it from the list of names as written within that culture, you have be familiar with the specific naming conventions (maybe the Wikipedia page helps, or if you know someone from that culture, you can ask them).

It's worth keeping in mind that getting it right serves two purposes:

  1. Making sure everybody knows the person you refer to, even if they don't know the full name.

  2. Showing courtesy towards that person.

While the second point is the only one of importance when addressing the person directly ("Dear Professor/Dr. X"), in your case the first point is actually more important: If (say) a referee wants to check the bibliography whether you cited a relevant author's works, they would expect to find them in a certain form. If everybody uses the same (wrong) way of parsing the name, it would arguably be the right thing to do to follow that choice.

(Finally, you could also chicken out and just list all authors in full, native name order; in Bibtex, you can do this by wrapping the full name in curly braces.)

  • Concerning the very last paragraph: The citation style, and thereby the style that authors' names are written in, is hardly something the citing author can decide about; in some fields, conference editors generally require authors to follow a particular citation style. Commented May 9, 2014 at 20:16
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    @O.R.Mapper - that is of course true; the comment was partly tongue-in-cheek (although I have seen good journals with a rather lax attitude to citation styles). Commented May 9, 2014 at 20:19
  • Accepting this answer, as it clearly states the answer, although the one by @aeismail could also fit. To conclude, in the general case, if that person has no reliable academic record (and you -can't/don't want to- get in touch with), you just have to... guess!
    – kebs
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 8:47

The convention, inasmuch as one exists, is:

Write the name the way the individual wants it to be written.

For example, one of my co-authors has four names:

(First Name) (Middle Name) (Adopted Married Name) (Given Last Name)

but chooses to use

(First Initial). (Middle Name) (Adopted Initial). (Last Name)

as his "formal" academic name.

As a more concrete example of this phenomenon, this is a significant issue with a lot of British folks, who eschew the hyphen in a "double-barreled" last name. For instance, you'd cite:

Vaughan Williams, Ralph. The Lark Ascending. London: Oxford University Press (2005).

and not

Williams, Ralph V. The Lark Ascending. London: Oxford University Press (2005).

In such cases, you just need to look up exactly how the author writes his or her name, and follow that trend. Google Scholar can be a good source of such information; Web of Science and other citation-tracking sites are often better.

The most useful method of all would be to find "self-citations": works where the author cites his or her own work. How the name is written under those circumstances should be the most unambiguous statement.

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    +1, but I wouldn't trust Google Scholar on this, especially if the name is ambiguous enough to give you trouble. Unless the person carefully curates their own profile, all information is auto-scraped without checking. Commented May 9, 2014 at 15:46
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    Good point. I think I found an even more reliable solution, which I've added.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 16:01

You could google the person and see how they refer to themself in their publications on their group's page. This would probably be the easiest general way to solve this problem.

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    Thanks, so the answer to the question seems to be "no".
    – kebs
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:11
  • The convention, as aeismail points out, is to try and find out how they write their name. I have merely identified the simplest way of doing so.
    – Sam
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:13
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    A good idea, with the one restriction that it doesn't work if their group's page uses the name in its "natural full form", i.e. <first name> <second name> <third name> ..., still providing no hint as to which parts get abbreviated in citation styles where given names are to be abbreviated. Commented May 9, 2014 at 20:13
  • @O.R.Mapper I think you misunderstand slightly; their group page will likely contain publications they have written, and so you will see how they write their name.
    – Sam
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 23:12
  • @Sam: Those publications may just as well use the <first name> <second name> <third name> ... form. Or, to use aeismail's example: Ralph Vaughan Williams's group page may well list his publications, but if those publications happen to indicate his name in the format "Ralph Vaughan Williams", that leaves you none the smarter if you have to write his name in the <full last name(s)>, <first letter for first name> form. Commented May 10, 2014 at 10:28

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