I would like to start publishing scientific papers soon. This issue pertains to the name I will use when publishing.

Basically, I would like to keep my personal and academic life separate and my question is "how can I do this?".

To make it clearer why I want to do this, I'll mention that my current legal name is associated with a certain subculture which is quite unconventional. I want people searching/Googling my professional name to only be exposed to my "academic identity", and people searching for my legal name to only be exposed to my "social identity". There is nothing illegal going on. I'll give an example which is close to reality but I'll refrain from giving exact information. The example is that my "social identity" is an author of erotic novels while my "academic identity" writes papers in mathematics. That's not too far from the reality. I would assume I am not the first one to have unconventional interests outside academia, the issue I guess is that my legal name is already tied to such an interest, which is a problem. And yes, this is quite amusing; feel free to laugh

I would be thankful for any ideas which would allow me to fulfill both my passions, despite their disharmony. Basically, I don't want the names to mix together when someone searches for one of them, but I still want to be able to prove that I wrote the papers (in case I want to use them when applying for a job or for grad school). Hopefully there is some way to achieve this. Other creative ideas to solve this issue are always welcome; maybe I am focusing too much on the name thing and there are other solutions.

I'll wrap this up with some ideas that I had:

  • I could just use a pen name for my academic papers I guess. I have finished my BSc lately. Problem here is that if I later want to apply to grad school, and I want to show that I have published papers, it could be hard to prove that I have written them (will it? maybe I'll have a pen-name on the papers but prove ownership by other means? like the email address on the paper?).
  • I could use a different spelling of my legal name on the papers (my legal name is not in English anyway, though I graduated from an English speaking university so my BSc has my name in English). That seems like they could still be linked relatively easily though and one could potentially show up when someone Googles the other name.
  • I could take on a new middle name (e.g. I could use a variation of my late grandfather's name, which I would gladly do) and use that as the first name in published papers (that seems like it could potentially work).

Some more comments

  • My last name is very common; my first name is very uncommon
  • I am aware of course that if I go to grad school they'll probably Google my legal name as well, and of course people who know me personally would be aware of what I do. It would be nice to limit it to those scenarios though.
  • Yes, I know I should have thought of this before linking my legal name to unconventional topics. I did not tell the whole story though and there was a reason for that.
  • 4
    More than one woman I know of has done this. Publish under her original name (the name she used in her first paper). But when she married, changed her hame to her husband's for social purposes. And kept the married name even after her divorce.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 13:24
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    What's the threat you are most concerned about? My main fear if I were in your position wouldn't be research colleagues connecting the identities, but rather students, particularly less mature students in beginning classes I was teaching. I don't see how to prevent that unless you thoroughly separate the identities (to the extent that your colleagues never call you by your current first name), which is a different matter from which name you use on research papers. There's also the issue that treating this as no big deal may attract less attention than going to great lengths failing to hide it. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 13:54
  • This might be relevant to an answer, but how common is the name? If you can easily find tens of people with similar names on Facebook or LinkedIn, then people might just dismiss things as a coincidence.
    – anonymous
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 14:26
  • 2
    Closely related: If I publish under a pseudonym, can I still take credit for my work?
    – E.P.
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:44
  • 3
    One possible issue you may encounter: the institution that employs you will need your real name, and in some places, you are assigned a non negotiable email address [email protected], even if it turns out ridiculously long (I do know one case that had to fight for a couple of weeks to shorten it because it was very long and difficult).
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:52

5 Answers 5


Here are a few considerations:

Using a common name in place of a unique name will look unusual, since people who choose to publish under a variant of their name typically go in the other direction, to make it easier to identify their papers. Everyone who learns about this will assume you either made an unwise decision about which variant to use, are trying to avoid prejudice based on your name, or are trying to disguise your identity. In any case this change may attract attention, which is the opposite of what you want.

To separate your identities, you need to use your professional name in all professional contexts. I.e., your university web page should use it, your colleagues should call you by this name, you should use it when you give talks or attend conferences, etc. To have a successful academic career involving research you need to develop a scholarly reputation, and that can't happen unless everyone connects you with your publications. That means either they connect the two identities or they know you under the name from your publications. (In particular, it's not enough for you to be able to prove that you are the author. In order for you to have a successful career, in the long run everyone must already know you are the author. This is not such a big issue for graduate school applications, but it's a major factor in getting tenure.)

I wouldn't worry too much about proof of authorship. This is not so easy to determine from the name anyway: even if you published your under full legal name, how would anyone know you weren't claiming papers that were written by someone else with the same name? One big clue is your letters of recommendation. If the letter writers discuss your papers, then everything will be fine. (While if they don't discuss your papers, then that's a problem regardless of the authorship issue.) At that point all you need to do is include a sentence in your publication list saying "My publications are under the name X." You don't need to explain why, just to clarify the facts so nobody is confused.

Once you have started publishing, substantially changing the name you publish under is highly disruptive. It can be done if necessary, but it may hurt your career by fragmenting your reputation, and the only way to combat this is by loudly and publicly connecting the two names. This means you should try your best now to choose a variant of your name that you would be happy using for the rest of your career.

It's worth thinking about whether you need to do this. In my experience, academia is tolerant of eccentricity and impressed by confidence. If you treat this situation like it's no big deal, then I'd guess that most people will ignore it and anyone who tries to gossip about it will risk looking provincial or small-minded. However, this of course could depend on the details of your situation. (And there's also the issue of students: first-year university students are on average quite a bit less mature than faculty.)

  • 24
    I would accept this solely on the ground that it's written by Anonymous Mathematician who would be an expert in this sort of thing. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 19:39
  • It seems more challenging to conceal your legal name from students than from readers of your publications - I guess most universities would list you by your legal name in course announcements.
    – silvado
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 22:25
  • Depending on your local laws, it may be possible to be employed as, and enrolled as under an "common use name". I am fairly confidant that is the case where I am, because Australia doesn't have a strong notion of a legal name -- a name becomes yours when you use it enough. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 8:30
  • Thank you. I am not sure where in the world you are from, but I did see @Oxinabox mentioned they are in Australia. I am likely to pursue my postgraduate education in Australia. Would you know if in Australia, as well, I would not have a problem proving authorship of the paper if it was written under a pseudonym?
    – avdo rian
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 15:09
  • I would not know. But I doubt it would be any kind of problem, if you use a name consistently in Australia it becomes your legal name. Beyond that I suggest reading academia.stackexchange.com/questions/8603 and if that does not answer your questions make a new post. (I see you deleted your old comment and then reposted it to "ping" me.) Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 15:12

More of a comment but too long.

I don't get it.

If it's okay to use the legal name among your colleagues:

they'll probably Google my legal name as well, and of course people who know me personally would be aware of what I do. It would be nice to limit it to those scenarios though.

then why do you care if the readers, who are people so distant away, from next school to five continents apart, know what your another passion is? Didn't you just rank the contact rates and degree of importance in the wrong order?

If I read a paper and tried to Google the author to know more, and then I found out a person with the same name does some very eccentric thing, to be honest I'd probably just dispel that as a coincidence or "ha, interesting" and then move on. Researchers just don't do research and nothing else. To me you will just be an author whose article interests me, whether you do other gigs or not does not affect how I see your paper, unless your other gigs were about how to fabricate data or something along that line.

If you do feel so strong about this, I would suggest changing your legal name instead. Keep your former legal as your passion-related name, and use the new name in all other settings including jobs and publications, etc.

  • 18
    To be honest, independently on how uncommon that name is, I'd probably assume that the "erotic novel writer" its just another person with the same name. Thinking that people in academia has lives outside it is something my brain would probably never process! Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 17:52
  • 2
    @AnderBiguri There are pictures of OP on the internet probably. Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:57

Generally speaking, it is possible to use a "pen name" for academic writing, or really for your entire academic career. I think using a different last name would be considered somewhat strange, but assuming your last name is common enough not to be an issue ("Smith") you could easily just use "Karl Bob Smith" rather than "Avdo Rian Smith" for all your academic affairs (except official statements) without raising too many eyebrows. This should largely alleviate your immediate problems, as long as your "unconventional topics" are not also linked to your face (if it is - think porn starlet - your problems are bigger; in this case I would suggest dropping all hopes of keeping it a secret for any amount of time and being super upfront with your past / side project).

However, be prepared that it's likely going to be a leaky secret anyway. Using a vastly different first name will divert the casual name googler and your random conference acquaintance, but I would assume your cohort in grad school is going to find out at some point. There just are places where you pretty much need to use your legal name, such as some forms. And once a few persons know, the message is going to spread with a speed proportional to how raunchy your secret is. Another problem is going to be that the places where you maybe would really want to keep things secret, such as grad school or job applications, are also the ones where you sooner or later really need to use your legal name. In that sense I am wondering how much you will actually win by using an academic pen name.

  • 3
    I don't think changing your last name would be considered particularly strange actually, I know a number of women who continue to use their maiden name for publications even after having having changed their official name when they got married. I also know a man who changed his surname mid-career too. Something to bear in mind is that university email addresses (at least once you are faculty) are often of a form that include your full name, and they may be harder to change.
    – SPPearce
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 13:15
  • Thank you for the answer! Fortunately, it is only my name. If I go with using a different first name, would you expect there to be problems proving that I have published those papers when I apply for grad school? could you suggest how I could prove it? would having ownership of the e-mail address which appear in the paper suffice?
    – avdo rian
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 15:11
  • @avdorian Somebody in the US would be more qualified to answer this, but I would not assume that you need to prove this if you say that Karl Bob is your academic pen name.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 16:13
  • 4
    @xLeitix I went through the US academic system (though I'm not there at the moment, if that means anything) and as far as I've ever known, proving you are the author of a paper generally does not involve any comparison to your legal name. Actually I'm not sure how one would prove authorship to an admissions committee, because I've never heard of it being required.
    – David Z
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 16:30
  • Thank you for the help. Can I also ask why it is that changing a last name is considered more strange than changing a first name? and are there unique problems that arise due to changing the last name which do not arise when one changes the first name?
    – avdo rian
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 8:30

Do you have a middle name? There are precedents for initializing away your first name. May look a bit pretentious, but not that terrible.

So if your real name is Avdo Rian Smith, and your unconventional community knows you as Avdo Smith, start going by A. Rian Smith in your papers. It is not a complete change, so it will cause less people to go look you up than if you had started to publish as Jebediah Smith.

Similarly, if you have another type of name which is not a middle name, you can take it up even if the convention in your country makes it weird. AFAIK, a Spanish man Urbano Ventura Melendez would consider "Urbano Melendez" the proper name to put on a scientific paper - you could use "Urbano Ventura" instead, even though it goes against tradition. A patronym from some Slavic countries would work too, if it is not reserved for other purposes like a Russian patronym.

In the end, if you only have a first name and only a surname in your passport, invent a middle name and you can still use the initialized version. If your first name is Avdo and the last one Rian, write A. John Rian on the paper and tell your coauthors you are really Avdo John Rian. If they know about your hobby, they will probably understand. If they don't, you could make up some story, or tell them the truth. Or just refuse an explanation - they will think you pompous and excentric, but you may feel better with that than either risking being exposed as a liar, or having your coauthors know your true hobby.

If you go the "middle name" way, you may want to start introducing you by middle name - surname at conferences too, so the community will get to know you under that name. If somebody overhears a close colleague calling you by your first name and asks why, the explanation that one of them is the first name and the other your middle name will be enough.

And in the end, having your hobby known may not be all that problematic, depending on the discipline you publish and the exact nature of the hobby. Scientists tend to be broad minded people socially, and especially the less traditional disciplines can easily accept something which a young person might be afraid to share with professional contacts. You might want to ask people who know you, are outside of your community, if they would advise you to try to hide your hobby. Also note that as a scientist, other scientists are more likely to search for your name in specialized databases like Pubmed or DBLP than just type it into Google.

  • 3
    A small correction: in Spain, if one had to choose one surname, it would usually be the first, unless it is very common and the second is not. Another common thing is to merge them with a hyphen.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 18:58
  • Thank you for the advice; it sounds like a good idea. One thing I am not sure about this however: when one submits a paper to a journal, do they have control of how their name is initialized? I understand I could do it in the paper itself, but what about online databases? would they not just initialize the middle name? i.e. I imagine that they would ask me to put in my first name, middle name, and last name, and then if I type "Avdo", "Rian", and "Smith" repsectively, they would abbreviate it as "Avdo R. Smith".
    – avdo rian
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 9:24
  • Database curators don't contact your university HR to ask about your legal name. They take the paper and copy whatever is on the paper into their database. And you write on the paper whatever you say your name is, so "A. Rian Smith" should be OK. Submission management systems (like Easy Chair for conferences or whatever homegrown stuff the journals use) can be trickier. If in doubt, type in "A. Rian" in the field which says "first name". If a coauthor of yours is entering, make sure you're around to make him enter the name you wish and not what the name he knows you by.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 10:43

How much effort you put in differentiating your social identity to your academic identity they will still be connected by the people around you. I think you could just accept the reality and embrace your weakness and make it your strenght.

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