It quite known that the transliteration of names of non-latin-based languages is quite ambiguous: a known example is Chebyshev (where at least 8 different transliterations are accepted, not counting incorrect spellings).

Now suppose that I want to cite three works by the same author: one published in French in one spelling (call it SP1), another in English in another spelling SP2, and the third was published only in his native language (the correct transliteration of the name, according to the current rules, would be SP3).

What is the common practice in this case?

If I preserve the historical spelling of these articles, then it seems that they were written by three different authors.

If I choose one spelling for all three references (I'm tempted to choose SP3), then it historically inaccurate and could lead to problems with finding the referenced article (not all search engines use flexible enough to take into account different spellings).

Any advice would be welcome.

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    The point of a reference is to give the information for somebody else to find it. If each is referenced at a different point, nobody will care. If you cite them all at once it is slightly cumbersome to use the 3 different spellings, but most folks will figure out the connection quickly, and that can be helped by the words you use. For example: Chebyshev wrote a series of three papers on this topic [Tschebyshev 1921, Chebyshev 1922, and Shabushev 1925] which together...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 14:21
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    @TZakrevskiy, I think you should keep the spelling used in each cited article, no matter their differences. The author agreed with the form of the name (each time), so nobody is hurt.
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 14:47
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    Perhaps this is one reasons DOIs were invented (among others).
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 14:49
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    One approach here is to look at how specialist journals which handle la large amount of Russian material deal with it. For example, the Slavic Review recommends using a single transliteration (LoC) and a single standard for place-names, with an allowed exception for "titles or quotations in the old orthography". slavicreview.illinois.edu/info/manuscripts.html Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 15:34
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    @Andrew it might be a good idea if we were to transliterate a lot of russian text. The main question is how to deal with different existing published transliterations. One guide would be good if all journals and all countries accepted it. This is not the case. And on a side note, the symbols that the LoC guide proposes just look weird=) Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 15:53

1 Answer 1


I suspect there is no single practice, for the simple reason that our society is very bad at dealing with the massive degree of variation found in names.

As a matter of principle, however, I would tend to approach transliterated names in the same way that one approaches name differences within a single language (e.g., complete formal name on a dissertation vs. "preferred name" on articles; post-marriage vs. pre-marriage name; name change following change in gender identity). Here, I see two general use cases, which fortunately correspond with the two options you identified, and it's just a matter of selecting which is most important for a particular usage.

  • Name as an identifier for a person: This is the use for references, either in the citations/bibliography or in prose (e.g., "As Chebyshev writes in [5]..."). In this case, you should use the same single name for the person, ignoring different historical versions, because the most important thing to communicate is the shared identity. Since people generally are allowed to choose their own names, you should typically choose the most current accepted name, as the best reflection of the person's current identity (though there are some exceptions).
  • Name as a historical record: In this case, the thing to be identified is the artifact, not the person, and any issues in the rendering of the person's name are secondary (e.g., "Festschrift for Tschebyscheff" would not be modified).

Something that I see as a somewhat problematic boundary case is when there is an "live" artifact named after a person, e.g., Chebyshev's inequality. Here, I would recommend simply going with a recognizable version of current consensus in the community where the publication is being sent.

  • Just to add: the "name differences within a single language" in (at least somewhat) formal setting in some cultures are quite limited and never affect the spelling. For example, in the Russian language any such variation would be a combination of the person's given name, patronymic name, and family name (eventually, marriage name). Barring very rare exceptions, anything else is informal. So, the "approach to name differences within a single language" could be quite a foreign concept. Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 14:52
  • As for the approach "Person identifier"/"Artifact" - I think that's quite a good idea, thank you. Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 14:55
  • @TZakrevskiy Regarding differences within a single language: I think you are agreeing with me when you say "eventually, marriage name." I cannot believe that there is any human culture in which people are always referred to in precisely one way.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 15:10
  • I never said that people are referred in an exactly one way (though one might check the Chinese language; I'm pretty sure that even in informal setting they go by full names; correct me if I'm wrong). I'm saying that changing the spelling of a name (not changing the family name or using several family names as in "marriage name") is impossible. If a William Doe publishes his paper as "Bill Doe" or "Willy Doe", it maybe ok. If an Ivan Petrovich Sidorov (Иван Петрович Сидоров) publishes an article in Russian, then he will necessarily go by the aforementioned spelling of all parts of his name. Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 15:22
  • @TZakrevskiy I know of cases in Norwegian in which there are different spellings of a name. So you can't say that it never affects the spelling.
    – Sverre
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 19:30

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