By chance, I have the same last name as one of the supervisors of a project I worked on. If I ask him to write me a recommendation letter, will the admission committee misconstrue that we are related and how do I provide proof that we are not? By the way, I am Chinese, so there is perhaps more overlap in last names.

  • One of my letters of recommendation came form a professor who's name differed only from mine, by the switch of a 't' for a 'l' in the last name. Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 5:16
  • Are you sure that you and your supervisor have no relation? Maybe there is a relation you are not aware of, but a DNA test could uncover it.
    – pts
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 5:26
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    On the other hand, you could surreptitiously take cheek swabs from your supervisor (while he or she is distracted) have the DNA analysed, at your expense, and include the test results in your resume proving without a shadow of a doubt that you are unrelated to each other (I'm joking!)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


There is a very easy solution. Your supervisor can simply write something like

To whom it may concern,

It is a pleasure to write in recommendation of John Smith (no relation). John is...etc., etc.

Professor Tom Smith

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    Exactly. I'd just add, in reference to your comment "how do I provide proof that we are not", that proof in such a case is not necessary. In general, if you say "no relation", people will believe you. If they think the person giving the recommendation is lying about not being related, a fact that could be proven by showing appropriate records, why would they believe him when he sys this person is a hard worker or very intelligent or other highly subjective things?
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 18:40

By the way, I am Chinese, so there is perhaps more overlap in last names.

Perhaps? Come on. Any worldly person who is paying attention knows that the ratio of people to surnames is orders of magnitude higher in China than in most Western countries. There are more than 1.3 billion Chinese (i.e., citizens of the PRC) and only slightly over 4,000 Chinese surnames, 100 of which account for about 85% of China's population. A 2007 survey reports approximately 92,881,000 Chinese with the surname Wang: more than 7 percent of the population. (Only about 1% of Americans have the surname Smith, and it drops off much more rapidly from there.)

I completely agree with @Corvus's answer: with a two word parenthetical expression any writer can allay all concerns in this regard, and it is probably a good idea to do so. (When I describe work of other mathematicians named "Clark" -- and, because I am ever tolerant of the imperfections of others, "Clarke" -- I generally do say "no relation".) But I wouldn't worry too much about this. You're Chinese, not Macedonian: even we Americans know a thing or two about where you're from.

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    I pay attention, too, yet I didn't know that this ratio is that high. And even if you're chinese, it doesn't mean you know thousands of people and have hundreds of name-clashes in your town. Even in Germany, we have towns with just a few tens of citizens, and even few-house towns called "Weiler" and one-house towns called "Einzelsiedlung".
    – phresnel
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 8:52
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    Pete, you are perhaps too generous in judging how worldly and attentive most people are. A Chinese person in the US worrying about this is not being weird. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 14:35
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    It's worse for Koreans. The surnames Kim, Park, and Lee account for half the population of South Korea.
    – dan-gph
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 3:23
  • @Colin: I took out the bit about weirdness because it didn't seem very constructive. Also, I confess that I had construed "I am Chinese" as "I am in China"...but upon more scrutiny it seems that is probably not the case. Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 4:17
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    Just curious. What's wrong with Macedonia? Just less popular (whatever that would mean) or some fun fact?
    – luk32
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 13:23

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