I like to use first names (or forename) to cite the work of others. It has become even more relevent when I found that somebody working in my field shares my initial and surname.

However, this is not the most common practice and in many cases, I do not know the forenames of the people I would like to cite.

Do you know of any pratical way to find these information ?

I usually resort to Google and Google Scholar search but that does not always solve the issue and can be time consuming (considering it is a detail).

  • 1
    While I think this is a good question (and up voted), are there any citation styles that even allow this?
    – StrongBad
    Sep 17 '12 at 10:55
  • I am writing a thesis so I can choose my citation style. Same goes for technical report in my company (no particular style is defined). I think that when space is not a crucial issue (such as in some tightly packed journals) this citation style is well adapted. Now that most articles transit in numeric format, I think the space argument is even a bit out of place -- but I do not intend on challeging the standards though.
    – M. Toya
    Sep 17 '12 at 11:39
  • Can you just cite yourself differently?
    – StrongBad
    Sep 19 '12 at 7:43
  • I might. I have find however that name and surname are the most straightforward manner. I am not the only one with a potential ambiguous name though. The question is raised even if I do not cite myself, as I would definitely appear as the author.
    – M. Toya
    Sep 19 '12 at 8:39
  • 1
    @AlfredM. Since you have some responses below that seem to answer your question, please consider marking one of them as ‘Accepted’ by clicking on the tickmark below their vote count. This shows which answer helped you most, and it assigns reputation points to the author of the answer (and to you!). Sep 24 '12 at 14:58

I also prefer to cite people by their full professional name whenever possible. Unfortunately, the only reliable way to find that information is to look for papers that they've written under their full name (whether first, or middle, or second-of-four, or what have you), while being very careful not to confuse authors with the same initial and last name.

In some fields, there are reasonably reliable review/citation databases like Mathematical Reviews or DBLP that disambiguate authors by full name, affiliation, and so on. (For example, DBLP successfully disambiguates me from another computer scientist that shares my first and last name.) A slightly less reliable method is to find the author's web page, or at least a web page at the author's department with their name on it, such as a faculty roster or a class syllabus.

But always remember that someone's full professional name may not be the same as their full legal name or their full given name. As Anonymous Mathematician points out, some authors consistently and deliberately publish under their initials to protect against sexism and other biases. The full professional names of these authors do not contain first names, only initials. A smaller number of authors (and groups of authors) publish under pseudonyms. Finally, authors from outside the US and Europe sometimes follow naming conventions that differ significantly from the modern European standard. (For example, one of my department colleagues publishes under what appears to be his last initial and first name; the reality is a bit more subtle. He doesn't go by either of those names in person.)


It's a little tricky trying to expand someone's name, since you might inadvertently arrive at a form they never use (for example, some people have never been called by their first names, but have always used their middle names instead, and may prefer to be cited as "F. Middle Last" rather than "First Last", "First M. Last", or "First Middle Last"). Some people also prefer to use initials when publishing, for example out of fear of prejudice or bias.

So if the published paper uses initials, then it is safest to retain them when citing it, unless you are really confident that your expanded version of the name won't confuse readers or offend the author.

On the other hand, if the published paper gives a first name, then you have your answer. Other databases may also give first names (for example, MathSciNet or the Mathematics Genealogy Project), but which databases are relevant depends on the field.


How about citing them in the standard way, but in order to disambiguate use marks by the names, such as superscript *, or '. And on the first appearance of such, put the explanation of the markings, as well as reasons for doing this into a footnote.

  • This seems to me a bi cumbersome. First, the ambiguities might be implicit in the sens that I might not have cited the people sharing my (or of those I cited) name an initial but they exist in the field anyway. Second, to do do this, one has to track down every possible ambiguities. Third, from a typrographical point of view this could be considered unelegant. However, your suggestion is helpful when one has not the choice of the citation format, like it is mostly the case with journals.
    – M. Toya
    Sep 17 '12 at 7:51

In addition to other excellent answers, I would like to make a suggestion for you,

Find the author's e-mail address and then send an e-mail to ask the author's full name.

If the author replies, you get the answer. If the author never replies in a reasonable time period, find the author's professional name as suggested by others or use the name that appears in the paper you are citing.

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