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When a person is starting their academic career and submitting their first paper, they need to give some consideration to what their official academic name should be. Consistency across publications is an important principle. A common consideration is whether to include a middle initial in academic publications. Thus, I was interested in what general advice you would give to a PhD student or early career researcher deciding whether to include their middle initial in their author name on publications.

A few possible principles:

  • Always include a middle initial because it reduces the chance that your name will be the same as another academic (including cases where only initials are shown in references), or because it looks more distinguished.
  • Only include a middle initial if your name is common, because there is a simplicity in just having a first and last name that is desirable where possible.

So, in summary:

  • What general advice would you give to PhD students and early career researchers about whether to include a middle initial in their publication author name?
  • Would you give different advice depending on the name (e.g., John K. Smith compared to Ambrosia K. Hooperdinkel)?

Note that this is different to some related questions about (a) whether you can add a middle initial to previous publications (b) the importance of name consistency, (c) how to cite papers with inconsistent initials.

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    I used to just go by first and last name until I lived in Spain. All of a sudden my two names felt horribly inadequate compared to the 3-6 names (with possibly even more words!). I've used my full name — first, middle, and last, no initials — ever since. – guifa Dec 13 '16 at 2:41
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    You should use whatever name you like [provided it's professional enough]. It's your paper, and your name, and you should be proud of them both. For me, I realized that I prefer my shortened name "Pat Devlin" instead of my given name "Patrick Devlin," so I just decided to start going by it for all my papers, and I'm happy with the choice. – Pat Devlin Dec 13 '16 at 4:14
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    I chose to use my middle initial but now have a collection of outputs with and without it. From my N=1, there'll always be those collaborators that submit something without thinking to check about middle initials. – Ian_Fin Dec 13 '16 at 10:30
  • Middle names are more "prestigious"...? What? – user9646 Dec 13 '16 at 13:57
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    @JeremyAnglim and if you have two middle names, man you got it made! People just assume you're a genius and the son of an English Lord – user60356 Dec 14 '16 at 4:16
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It's a matter of author's own preferences whether to include the middle initial or not. It's better to be consistent from the beginning, and do not use different styles in different papers, although the author might be able to "glue" together their records in some bibliographical services if they treat different spellings of their name as different persons (I have managed to do this on Scopus for myself, but there may be other databases which I don't know).

This, however, does not solve the main problem - it only reduces the chance that two authors will have the same name or initials, but it does not eliminate it completely. This is why authors are advised to establish ORCID:

Quoting http://orcid.org/, this is "a persistent digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher and, through integration in key research workflows such as manuscript and grant submission, supports automated linkages between you and your professional activities ensuring that your work is recognized".

Some publishers already allow the author to specify their ORCID during submission, and some others already require it, for example PLOS One and the Royal Society.

Another useful feature of ORCID is that it allows the author to keep a public profile with a list of their publications (and other optional details). Even more, one could link their ORCID profile to Impactstory (https://impactstory.org/) and track online impact of their research. As an example, by now I've already stopped maintaining a list of publications on my personal homepage since I can just put there links to several databases, ORCID being one of them, and most of them (as reported by Impactstory) are in open access anyway.

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    I wouldn't recommend dropping the publication list on one's homepage. Its main benefit is that you can add free pdf files for everyone to download (while typically Orcid and the other scholarly databases can't, because of licensing issues). – Federico Poloni Dec 13 '16 at 13:01
  • @FedericoPoloni yes, this is just an example which works for me, not a recommendation. I've made an edit to explain why. By the way ORCID does not store items itself - it keeps only metainformation, including links to their original location. – Alexander Konovalov Dec 13 '16 at 13:34

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