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I was born in Ukraine and when I immigrated to the United States at a young age my middle name was translated phonetically. In Eastern Slavic cultures, our middle names aren't quite the same as middle names in the United States. It's not simply an "alternative name" for me. Our middle names are patronymic. They are our father's names. I do not consider my middle name to be the same as the traditional middle name used in the United States.

I am currently applying to graduate programs and I have decided to leave my middle name out. The name is long and unpronounceable by most. On top of it being my father's name, it has a suffix ending "-evich" tacked on at the end. This makes it 11 characters long and it usually gets truncated to fewer characters when seen in my undergraduate university's system. This bothers me and I would just rather then not have the patronymic middle name in my records at all.

Are there specific reasons I should include my middle name on my graduate school applications?

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    I don't see a problem with that. The US are very liberal respecting such choices. If a school wants you, and you tell them you'd like to go by 'Rocky' now, it is unlikely to raise any eyebrows. To avoid confusion though, it is good to start to establish a naming convention that identifies you clearly from social security to passports; if not, you might later run into issues with some administrators. – gnometorule Nov 26 '14 at 20:28
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Here is how I handle these things:

  • I publish papers with just my first and last name - no middle name or initial.

  • My vita and website use just my first and last name.

  • When I fill out "official" forms, like employment paperwork and tax forms, I use the full name that is on my passport and driver's license. This helps to avoid any confusion when these forms are compared with each other.

For a school application, I would use the same name that is on your government ID. But this is just for the centralized records. Nobody in the academic department is likely to care (or even notice) if you just go by your first name and last name in public life.

  • thanks. what would you say about the name on the graduation diploma? – Amir Jan 5 '16 at 22:20
  • If you are in the United States, schools are likely to look at your transcripts to see if you graduated, not your diploma. I have never had to show a diploma to an employer in the U.S. If you plan to move somewhere else, I suppose it has a nonzero chance of making a difference - but not a very large chance. – Oswald Veblen Jan 13 '16 at 13:09
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I sympathize with your problem: I have two middle names, and databases don't tend to believe in that. Rather than fight the system or pick one, I typically omit my middle names except when explicitly required by the government (e.g., dealing with customs and immigration).

When you are applying for an academic position (grad school, postdoc, faculty, industrial research, etc), generally what the institution really cares about is simply that you are uniquely identifiable. In other words, the exact name you use isn't all that important as long as it clearly connects to a real person and doesn't indicate any intention to deceive.

  • Your second paragraph contradicts itself: if the only reason they care about your name is as a unique identifier, shouldn't you be giving as many names as possible? – David Richerby Nov 26 '14 at 22:02
  • @DavidRicherby Please note that I did not say the name has to be the primary unique identifier. One typically has to supply other things that are much better unique identifiers than names, such as various types of government-issues ID numbers... – jakebeal Nov 26 '14 at 22:11
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I recommend that you do not include your middle name because it will be inconvenient to get people to spell it correctly. In American academic culture, most people will respect whatever name you wish to go by (assuming they are able to pronounce it).

I routinely omit different parts of my legal name for different purposes and it has never caused me any problems.

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For legal issues (application to school, work, passport, ...) you have to give your full name, and be consistent with it. Transliteration can be tricky here... For informal contact, a nickname will do ;) For publications, pick one and be consistent. There are people who publish under their middle name, or initial and middle name, others use full first and middle name, I use first name and middle initial. Whatever you pick, use it consistently. It is frustrating to see some J. Doe, John D. Doe, Jack Doe, J.D. Doe, John Demetrius Doe publishing in your field and not being able to tell if they are the same or different people.

  • what is your suggestion on the graduations diploma for someone who has not applied for the green card yet but plans to change the name for citizenship later on? – Amir Jan 5 '16 at 22:22
  • @Amir, I believe that is a different question. People change names for lots of reasons (e.g. by marrying). – vonbrand Jan 5 '16 at 22:30

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