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As some of you may already know, family names precede given names in Eastern Asian culture, and furthermore given names (e.g., Lingfeng) are more differentiable than family names (e.g., Li). This is quite the opposite of Western names.

As an Eastern Asian who just started my career in academia, I am seriously considering publishing my future papers under Li Lingfeng instead of Lingfeng Li (just an example). To me the benefits are two-fold.

  • This preserves my culture better, and I don't think nowadays Westerners will have problems identifying my family name is actually Li. I guess they are already familiar with this name format, given that in mainstream news (such as BBC or CNN), Chinese names always appear in its original form, e.g., Mao Zedong rather than Zedong Mao?
  • Citation Li et al., 2016 is way less distinguishable than Lingfeng et al., 2016. It's every researcher's dream to get famous. I think this at least helps clear some ambiguity?

Will this unconventional way of writing my name cause trouble in my future academic career? What are the foreseeable hassles that it may bring?

It will be even more amazing if someone could also help me with this bonus question: for immigration purpose, will it cause me any trouble if my publication records don't match exactly my foreign IC that writes Lingfeng Li?

  • I disagree with your first bullet. I bet people know about 'Chairman Mao' as opposed to his full name. Also, in the western world, people automatically assume your last name is the family name. Why go against the tide? Also, any publication tracking software will assume that too. Second bullet: it's about the work/idea. With Chinese names. I'm sure there are thousands or Li Lingfeng so it doesn't really matter how you order your name. Make an important contribution so people pay a bit more attention to find out who is who. I've seen researcher add a western name: Li (Bob) Lingfeng. – Prof. Santa Claus May 19 '16 at 4:22
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    Lingfeng et al., 2016 is an incorrect citation regardless of the order in which you write your name. Depending on your discipline/subfield people may be more or less likely to know how to correctly handle your name. – virmaior May 19 '16 at 5:07
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    Just to point out that my gut feeling is that if you asked random Westeners what Mao Zedong's first name is, the overwhelming majority would say "Mao". Note that in Europe the royalty is almost always referred to by their first name only ("King George", "Queen Elizabeth") so it's not obvious that the name used to address a country's leader is their last name. – Moyli May 19 '16 at 9:21
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    This would be a mistake setting you up for a lifetime of incorrect "corrections" by people who know that Li is the family name. – TheMathemagician May 19 '16 at 9:41
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    People will always adress you and introduce you as Dr. Lingfeng. Doesn't it sound weired to you? To me at least it would be odd to be called Dr. Peter. – vanao veneri May 19 '16 at 13:38
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family names precede given names in Eastern Asian culture

... and in Hungarian, and possibly some other languages.

As an Eastern Asian who just started my career in academia, I am seriously considering publishing my future papers under Li Lingfeng instead of Lingfeng Li (just an example).

I am not sure this is possible: I have come across various paper styleguides that explicitly requested the given name to come before the surname (or, equivalently, to list the given name first, but then add a comma, to indicate the "original" order of name parts has been changed). For example:

Now, if you switch the order based upon whether adherence to a specific order is required, this can easily create more confusion than always going with the given name - surname order.

I don't think nowadays Westerners will have problems identifying my family name is actually Li. I guess they are already familiar with this name format, given that in mainstream news (such as BBC or CNN), Chinese names always appear in its original form, e.g., Mao Zedong rather than Zedong Mao?

While BBC and CNN might do so, there are many news outlets that are "mainstream" in their respective countries or language areas. Are you sure they all follow this convention?

In any case, I am not convinced this is evident at all to a "Western" audience. I wouldn't be surprised if quite some people interpreted a mention of "Mao Zedong" to mean that "Mao" is the given name and "Zedong" is the surname, thus remaining oblivious to the (from their point of view) "unusual" ordering and getting the name wrong.

Citation Li et al., 2016 is way less distinguishable than Lingfeng et al., 2016. It's every researcher's dream to get famous. I think this at least helps clear some ambiguity?

I am not sure about famous as such (which somewhat implies a general audience), but let's say most researchers would wish for their name to be known in their community and associated with certain findings.

While I agree with the issue you outline, my understanding is that you use the surname in citations, no matter in which position it is shown. So, the citation for a paper by "Li Linfeng" would still be "Li et al., 2016". (And then, some might not recognize the ordering and indeed cite "Linfeng et al., 2016", thereby creating confusion again).

To conclude, I fully agree with the problems you outline1, and I do think this is a problem that to date does not yet have a satisfactory solution in the academic publishing world. However, just using the surname - given name ordering as an individual will probably just create new problems rather than making everything nice and tidy.

1: with the restriction that I find terms like Asian and Westerners overly generalizing in this context. As mentioned above, there are also Western cultures with the surname - given name ordering, and also, while many Chinese surnames may allow for relatively little distinction, I am not sure the same can be said about Thai surnames, for instance.

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    I suspect there would be issues with citation indexes too. – Massimo Ortolano May 19 '16 at 11:42
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I know a former colleague, who publishes all his work under the name A. B. C. Ddddd Eeeee, even though he comes from a part of India where the family name comes first – so his family name is in fact Aaaaa. In his case, that works: academically, he's known as Prof. Ddddd Eeeee. But it works only because nobody outside of India and few people in India know the real story.

For Chinese names, the situation is different. Even in the Western hemisphere, there are quite a number of people who know that in any trisyllabic Chinese name the one-syllable part is the family name, and who would therefore cite Li Lingfeng as Li, L. or perhaps Li L. Others don't know it, and they would therefore cite Li Lingfeng as Lingfeng, L. This kind of confusion, however, is clearly undesirable. You could try to make it clear (to those unfamiliar with Chinese culture) by using all-caps for the family name, i. e., LI Lingfeng, or by abbreviating the given name, i. e., Li L.-F., but that may interfere with journal formatting styles. So, in the end, it's probably not a good idea.

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    "by using all-caps for the family name" - note that this in itself might create some confusion. For example, writing the family name in all-caps is totally unusual in German, So, when I first encountered this convention in French names (where it seems to be quite usual), I was totally confused and it took me a while to figure out this was not a personal quirk by the respective authors and instead, this was a somewhat standard way to highlight the surname (even though I could perfectly tell which part was the surname from the start, because French names as such are quite readable to me). – O. R. Mapper May 19 '16 at 19:26
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    @O.R.Mapper The convention seems to be used in particular in France and in some parts of Asia, e.g., in Japan. But you're right, some may find it confusing. And in the case of a two-letter family name like Li, there is even the risk that "LI Lingfeng" is interpreted as initials, i.e., "L. I. Lingfeng". – Uwe May 19 '16 at 19:34

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