We are currently working on a conference paper where we plan to cite and discuss a paper as a related work. It was written by a colleague at the same university who has kindly offered to help us understand its specifics.

After publishing said paper, the colleague has changed name and gender. For example, suppose that the paper is authored by George Smith and she now uses the name Mary Smith (not the real names). The problem is that she insists that her new name/gender is used everywhere, including our citation of her publication. She explicitly asked us to change the citation from G. Smith to M. Smith.

I’m not sure how to handle this. The publisher still lists George as name as do most citation data bases. Our scientific handbook demand that external sources should be cited as precisely as possible and should not be modified. (I asked about this specific case and got back a multi-page document that stresses the importance of respecting gender identity [no problem for me] but the document does not address this issue.) On the other hand, the paper has a distinct title, journal name, volume, number, pages and a DOI so everybody should be able to find it, even if one author is listed as M. Smith instead of G. Smith.

Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation? Would a change from G. Smith to M. Smith be acceptable/reasonable?


14 Answers 14


Is it an option to ask M Smith if she would be ok if the first citation were to read as the following?

Smith, M. (published G.) 2014, recent advances in foo, international journal of foo sciences 12:56, 427-865

This would eliminate the only reason I can think of for misgendering the person, namely that readers might be unsure whether they are looking up the correct source. This would be a weak reason, though, since we have DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers) now.

Edited on second thought: What is the worst thing that could happen if you use the new name? Someone might find it more difficult to look up the paper; that's a minor inconvenience. Compare this to the frustration, if not anger and distress, that it would cause M. Smith to be referred to in cold print by a name that doesn't reflect her identity and that she is struggling to leave behind.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 14:20
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    It's been a few years and I've now voted to delete this answer. (Apparently I can't unilaterally delete my own answers once accepted.). There is at least one much better answer now, written by an actual expert on gender transition in academia. Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 14:49
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    @henning You could also edit your answer to reference the other one. (I'm not sure which one did you mean actually. Also, props for acknowledging.)
    – Neinstein
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 11:37

One of the primary goals of citing literature is to help others find that literature. Citing a paper differently than it exists in a journal is antithetical to this goal. Unless Smith changes George to Mary on the article you are citing, you should cite it as it exists.

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    Yes, but suppose a Russian whose Russian papers had been transliterated under the name Chaikovskii suddenly started publishing in English under the name Tchaikovsky (very similar things have happened). Isn't having half her papers under one name and half under another name in the bibliography even more confusing? Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 17:27
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    @PeterShor Only if you are using the citations to figure out which papers were written by the same author... Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 23:05
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    The point of a citation is to serve as pointer to an archived piece of literature, nothing more. It's not there to reinforce or undermine anyone's gender preference, fluff egos, compute h-index, Right Great Wrongs, or anything else. I will copy the citation as it appears in the cited journal, with the author names exactly as they appear in that journal. If the authors do not like the way they are cited by the journal, that is between them and the journal. As for the gender, no gendered pronoun needs to appear in your text in the first place.
    – user168715
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 4:53
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    Changing the letter of the old first name to the new first name is not going to make it anymore difficult to find the appropriate article. The journal name, volume number, title, and page numbers will make sure of that.
    – user74139
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:35
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    @PeterShor That is the usual case. It is the case for women who change their names on marriage and then publish under their married names. The citation goes under the published name. A reprint may be published under a different name than the original for this reason. [Not everyone changes her name, obviously. Not all who change their names publish under their married names. But it certainly happens.]
    – cfr
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:21

This is really making a mountain out of a mole hill. Do the thing that will make the author happy. Even hyper famous papers have all sorts of oddities and mistakes in them; it is likely that nobody is even going to notice this. On the subject of citations:

In the scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter.

  • 39
    I thought myself a good typo spotter, and yet it took me a minute and some googling to figure out what was wrong about that journal! Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 12:52
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    @LeonMeier "Brain" (part of the central nervous system) vs. "Brian" (a first name).
    – das-g
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 15:30
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    I suggest doing the thing that makes the publisher happy since they are going to change it in the end to match their style guide.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:45
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    To be fair, it's not making a mountain out of a molehill. It's making a StackExchange question out of a moral dilemma. People have done far worse with their time and got less out of it!
    – Rich
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 1:00
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    @StrongBad well if the publisher changes it you can apologise to the collaborator and say it was out of your hands. I don't think the publisher will notice this though. Clearly 77 "Brian"s got past a publisher, and I've seen a lot worse. Really the only person who will notice is the academic with a gender change, and if the OP wants to keep working with them it would be best to stay on good terms.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 11:54

Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation?

Name them exactly as in the publication, using the old name for publications before the name change and the new one for publications after the name change. Your scientific handbook requires that, the conference organizers or journal publishers (or the citations style1 they mandate) will probably require it and it is the common convention in scientific writing for practical purposes: References are (primarily) for re-finding the source work itself, not (primarily) for re-finding or identifying its authors.

References are, in many citations styles, highly redundant for a reason: Keeping their function to accurately point to the source work even in the case of accidental errors. Relying on the redundancy to suffice when introducing deliberate changes is counter-productive.

Thus, the only case when you could cite an old work under the new name would be if it has been re-published under the new name and is thus findable under the new name, too. (This sometimes happens when originally pseudonymously published works are published again under the author's canonical name after they claim authorship for their "true" identity. Probably more common with fanfiction than with scientific writing, but not unheard of there either, I assume.)

This means that in this case, this isn't really your own choice to make.2 The same rules apply whether someone changed their name due to marriage, due to becoming a monk or nun, due to being elected pope and also when authors didn't change their name per-se but just published different works under different names (like the already mentioned pseudonyms). So ask your colleague to please not take it personally when you disregard her wish in this case and that you are happy to respect her preference when referring to her outside of scientific citations.

Would a change from G. Smith to M. Smith be acceptable/reasonable?

As harsh as that might be on your colleague's feelings: No, this wouldn't be acceptable, especially not if rules (like the handbook you mentioned, and probably more rules by the journal publisher etc.) apply, that clearly state that it isn't and it wouldn't be reasonable to ignore or willingly violate those rules.

1 You didn't say anything about the citations style mandated or used, but for the example of APA Style, this blog post on the official APA Style blog covers name changes, explicitly including changes due to gender changes.

2 Unless of course the different rules that might apply disagree. But even then, as the journal publisher has the final say about whether your paper will be published especially concerning formalities like this, ask your publisher which rules take precedent.


I advise you strongly to use their new name and gender. Especially in the period right after the change, she's very sensitive about this. It's very upsetting when people remind you of your previous gender and cite you with your previous name. After thirty years, it doesn't matter that much. Today, I wouldn't care any more. I ask of you to not consult the person about it. She needs all support she can get, citing her by her right name without asking her will make her feel good.

I speak from experience: been there, done that. I wrote papers and publications before and after. People have always handled this in a way I appreciate: by using my after-change gender and first name.

  • 77
    So you advise writing a wrong citation just to not hurt the feelings of others because they don't like facts? Besides that, even if OP writes down the current name, everyone who looks up the paper will still read the old name. The name on that paper doesn't change. And I don't know how it's done in that field but in my field it's common that the references get checked and such "mistakes" will get corrected.
    – user64845
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 17:04
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    There is strong precedent to cite published research as it was published. Is sensitivity a compelling reason to break precedent? Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 17:16
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    I'm just saying what I prefered when I was in the same situation. I must say, my current name isn't that different from what it was before, for the reason you mentioned.
    – Christine
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 17:19
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    The first answer suggests asking the person. Whatever is decided, that's the worst thing to do.
    – Christine
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 18:46
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    @chessofnerd Such precedent is not strong at all, for instance Don Knuth prefers to have names in citations as complete and as precise as possible, no matter how they appeared in the publication. And also, the names are not even mandatory for a reference, so I don't understand the big deal you make out of it.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 18:02

Very similar things have happened previously. The following really happened, but the name has been changed.

A Russian whose papers had been translated under the name Chaikovskii suddenly started publishing papers in English under the name Tchaikovsky. So his papers in old translated Russian journals all have the name Chaikovskii, and his papers after he started publishing in English all have the name Tchaikovsky. Would you really want to list half his papers under one name and half under the other? That really would be confusing, especially since the two names are quite far apart alphabetically.

What people sometimes do in this instance is list all his papers under the new name. Sometimes they put something like (pubished as Chaikovskii) in the reference and sometimes they don't.

I don't really see why we should treat transgender people worse than Russians.

I would recommend people do the same thing in this case. List all the papers in the bibliography with her new name. Add (published as G. Smith) if you feel people will be confused by the change of initials. When your colleague becomes world-famous and has many publications under the name M. Smith, then G. Smith will be the confusing citation.

If you really feel that academic honesty requires you to list the paper as G. Smith in the bibliography, then depending on the reference style the journal requires, you could use

M. Smith [G. Smith 2016] showed that ...


M. Smith [6] showed that ...
[6] G. Smith, "paper title" ...

About the name change causing confusion: a very famous computer scientist insists on listing everybody in his bibliographies with their full names (Xavier Yawkey Zacharias Jones), even if they put just Z. Jones on all their publications. This has not caused widespread confusion.

  • 16
    You would want half of them cited under the old name because that's what you need to search to find them. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 23:07
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    @immibis: The papers in Russian journals appeared under the name Чайко́вский, and that never changed. It's only the English translations (which were regularly published by Western publishers in translated versions of the journals a year or two after the Russian versions) that used the name Chaikovskii. And many citations of them indeed use the name Chaikovskii (although remarkably, Google scholar actually has some of the translated versions that were published with the name Chaikovskii filed under the name Tschaikowsky). Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 0:09
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    @immibis: Should you cite the author of Laughter in the Dark as "Vladimir Nabokoff" and of Lolita as "Vladimir Nabokov"? Does anybody? And if you're writing his biography, do you use the first spelling for the years before 1940 and the second for the years afterward? Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 1:28
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    I think your last comment mixes two things. One is citing a work as it appears. The other is referring specifically to a person. While I see the arguments for keeping the old name in the citation (not that I can make up my mind on what I would do myself in the situation), certainly one should use the current name when referring to the person. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 4:58
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    @Tobias: a problem may be that when you write the text, for some journal styles the citations are of the form "Chaikovskii [1973] proved Tchaikovsky's theorem." I would say that in this style, you are referring to a person as well as a reference. But I suppose you could write "Tchaikovsky [Chaikovskii 1973] proved Tchaikovsky's theorem." Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 11:13

Use the name the author prefers. There is little chance of confusion. In a given citation style, there are at least three and possibly more separate factors pointing toward the correct citation: 1) author's last name, 2) actual page/volume citation, 3) doi, 4) article title, 5) author ORCID id in case of name confusion.

Beyond simple courtesy (search "deadnaming" for how seriously many trans folks take this), the arguments for using the author's preferred name are internal consistency and Google-ability.

1) You are going to be using the author's name in many different contexts. For instance, in the acknowledgments, you will say, "We thank Mary Smith for helpful discussion of her paper, Ref. 24" (as Mary has requested you use her current name, and you're presumably not a jerk.) If Ref. 24 is attributed to George Smith, you have confused readers just as much as if you cited "M. Smith," and they later found G. Smith. You may also want to use her name within the paper body - "Work by Mary Smith's group..." (though here it might be more common to say "Smith et al.").

2) Sometimes, readers (and especially people who hear talks) don't check citations. They just hear you say, "Mary Smith at University of X" and google that. The same applies when you repeatedly refer to someone's work by their name within the paper. You want that name to lead to the current online presence - presumably in the author's preferred name.

As a side note, telling trans authors that preferring their current name means they "don't like facts" or that changing a citation to match the current name is ignoring "professionalism, scientific fact and established standards" seems a wildly disproportionate response to a fairly straightforward request. If someone said, "By the way, I know that the original paper spells my name Gorge, but it's really spelled George, we never got around to issuing a correction," what would you do?

Edited to add: I looked up a trans friend's research in the standard archive/search engine for her field. Because she has gone through a formal name change process, most of her pre-transition papers are listed under her current name. If you searched her deadname, you do not find those papers. Using the author's current name is not just polite, but the only way to not be misleading here.

  • 2
    "You want that name to lead to the current online presence" - that depends. Especially when looking at a citation, a reader may be more interested in works by the same author from around the same time, when they still used to call themselves "G." "the original paper spells my name Gorge, but it's really spelled George" - that seems like a different case, given that "Gorge" was already considered incorrect at the time of writing. Even so, the spelling mistake would have to be highlighted, thereby calling additional attention to the gender change (which, according to others here, might be bad). Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 5:25
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    No matter what time period you are interested in, you probably still want to know the author's current affiliation. It's not like their papers will drop off of their webpage or CV! In the cases of the trans researcher I know best, searching for their original name would get you nothing useful unless you were literally searching the internet archive.
    – AJK
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:43
  • 2
    +1 for mentioning ORCID id. I'm not sure whether ORCID have a policy for name changes, but I suspect that this should be treated in the same way as a more familiar name change would be. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 22:51
  • 6
    Some people still need to find papers in printed, bound journals in libraries ....
    – cfr
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:29

TL;DR: I have this problem when citing my own papers. I concluded that I'm citing a paper, not a person, and generally cite my old papers as they stand (example below). However, if someone asked me to cite their papers in a certain way, I would do so: it's a minuscule cost, and makes them feel like you value their identity.

I feel the worst option is to cite both names: this "outs" them, and permanently reveals personal and identifying information.

Basically, there's four five options, and we'll weight up the pros and cons:

  1. Don't cite the paper.

    This is just a workaround, and is probably not appropriate unless the paper is only tangentially relevant. It might also only be a temporary solution (i.e., the problem might arise in your next paper).

  2. Cite the paper as it's published.

    This is what I do in my papers. For example, in Partial Latin rectangle graphs ... (DOI), this is how I cite my papers:

    screenshot of me citing my own papers

    After a not-small amount of reflection, I eventually came to the conclusion that I'm citing a paper, not a person.

    The consequences?

    • People who don't already know about the transition, do not realize papers under the old name are my papers. At conferences, people ask if they were published by my brother or husband. They don't equate "that name" with me.

    • Realistically, most people are going to cite the paper this way without asking me. They simply don't know about what's happened since then.

    • These citations do not stand out as abnormal. It's more private.

  3. Cite the paper under the author's real name.

    If someone asked me to cite their name in a particular way, that's what I would do. If you don't do it, you're acting against their will---it's a violation; you're joining the chorus of people who declare that person has little worth.

    • I know personally how painful this can be first hand. E.g. I went a bit crazy at my former supervisor when he had "that initial" on a talk slide. (Sorry Ian.) Things like this have made me seriously reconsider staying in academia.

      Early on in a transition, virtually everyone constantly contests your gender, and your identity. Every day, you're required to demonstrate that you are who you say you are. You cannot give people the slightest hint that it's acceptable to deadname you---people will use it as evidence that you're identity is not genuine, and use that as a reason to not treat you with basic human dignity (and encourage others to do likewise).

      As transition progresses, and you become more established in your gender, the people who contest your gender become the "fringe". If someone contests my gender nowadays, people will just think they're being an arsehole. The need to defend one's gender decreases over time.

    • Also, have you seen how many errors there are in published references? One character is going to go unnoticed. (In only the most contrived circumstances will someone be hindered in finding a paper because of this one character.)

  4. Cite the paper under the author's real name, and mention it was published under a different name.

    I recognize that this is currently the top answer. I respectfully, but strongly contest this: I consider this the worst thing to do. This outs them, permanently.

    The norm in academia is not to reveal personal and identifying information; it's considered unethical to do so. That's what this amounts to.

  5. Show them this post.

    At the risk of sounding arrogant, perhaps you can consider showing the person this post. It might change their mind.

    If not, I'd go with what they wish.

  • 4
    Thanks for taking the time to write this answer, and the other answers you've given on similar topics. They've been very informative for me, and I'm sure, many other people.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 15:59

You're weighing up factors against vs. in favour of a particular action, namely using your colleague's new initial.

Points in favour:

  • Your colleague feels strongly about it
  • Your colleague has explicitly asked you to do it
  • It meets social norms regarding trans peoples' names
  • When you asked for clarification of the regulations, you received a document stressing the importance of doing it
  • It would show respect for your colleague and help your working relationship with her

Points against:

  • It's just about conceivable that the discrepancy in the initial could cause someone to fail to find the paper, for example if they try to look it up using a system that doesn't return partial matches, and if they then don't follow it up by Googling the paper's title, looking up the journal issue it appears in, etc.

If that last possibility happens, it does hurt your colleague's career a little bit (it's a potential loss of a reference to her work) and you're right to worry about it. However, you should know that it also hurts your colleague's career if you cite her under a name that she no longer uses. For example, what if a top professor loves the paper by G. Smith but passes over a job application from M. Smith? That would hurt her career a lot more.

As a general rule of thumb in such situations, you should trust your colleague to have weighed these up and made the right decision for herself. After all, she's the one who's made the huge decision to go through a gender change and all that that entails; she has her reasons for this and she knows a lot more about the consequences than you do. She's made a specific request of you, and if your concern is for her career then there's nothing to do other than listen to her and act on it.


To answer your question:

Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation? Would a change from G. Smith to M. Smith be acceptable/reasonable?

Yes, it would be perfectly reasonable to do so.

  1. Make it someone else's problem.

If anyone at a journal or a conference objects, then they'll let you know. I can't imagine anyone busy editing a journal or organizing a conference wishing to get drawn into a discussion on that topic unless they have an ax to grind.

And this might be useful for the author to know. So do pass it on if anyone objects. It's good for her to know who the bigots in the profession are.

  1. Be practical.

The bibliography will contain all the references needed to find the original article. Moreover, it's highly unlikely that any other article with the same title, published in the same year, in the same journal, in the same volume by an author with the same name will be mistaken for the article you're referring to.

  1. Be kind.

The original author has asked this of you and you'd not be inconveniencing anyone who's only interested in looking up her publications. You'd help her and not hurt anyone else professionally.


Disclaimer: I'm not active in the field of academia itself.

As others have mentioned there is clear precedent and standardization across this field, and for good reason. It's a field based on fact and evidence and incorrect citations could damage the standing of the citing paper, as it could thus be perceived as incorrect or of lesser quality.

As a reader, It's exceedingly frustrating to not know exactly if I've looked up the correct source, if its because there's a typo in the name, or a namechange, or because the citing paper is simply incorrect.

Diverging from this, purely for social and highly personal views of the individual, even if said view might be shared by a larger percentage of demographics should imho be avoided.

The whole idea that she considers herself to be a different person now, only makes this case stronger and when one considers identity in "Gender Identity" then it is in fact he who wrote the paper, not her.

Yes, the views of said colleague should be respected, as in, one should treat her views with respect, but not as in, her desires (or perhaps demands) should thus be met. That is certainly not what respect means.

Especially in fields such as these, professionalism, scientific fact and established standards, do not and should not be set aside or diminished for volatile social norms, as by definition, they can not be considered set in stone. Bending semantics (or reality) so as to fit the current social norm (if it's a widely accepted norm or not is of little consequence), especially when the field is supposed to be unbiased, neutral and factual, has no basis in a field such as this, if anywhere else.

As a pragmatic solution to your (or her) problem: In other fields, e.g. arts/entertainment, a place where names often change (be it in the form of stage names or changing family names), citations and credits are written in the form Jane Doe (as John Doe). I don't know if a similar construct would be applicable or desirable in the field of academics, but it seems like a sane approach that reflects both past and current situation, without doing the author of the cited paper any injustice.

  • 12
    I doubt that "she considers herself to be a different person now." A transgender person doesn't "change genders"—they change their name, pronouns, and outward expression (or some subset of those) to match their actual gender rather than the gender they were assigned at birth. That's what gender identity means—not how you present externally, but what you are internally. The person who wrote the paper is the same person with the same gender as the person who now publicly identifies as female. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 15:51
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    I can also see merit in that point of view. However, in that case I would argue that it is indeed just a change of name and gender pronoun, and less heavily loaded. And as such, the name and gender pronoun under which the article was published, should be the correct one, as that reflects the state of the article when it was published. Same as any other name change, where gender pronoun or identification would not have been a factor. Without going into the semantics of what actual and assigned gender would even mean, as I'm sure it means different things to different people.
    – Yuka
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 16:04
  • 1
    I agree, more or less. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 21:35
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    The facts, such as they are, don't require the use of a particular gender pronoun. The paper does not state the author's gender, I assume. Just a name. So there's no reason not to respect the author's preference regarding pronouns, even if there's reason to resist her preference regarding name. That particular names are gendered is itself just a social convention, so unless the original paper specified its author's gender, the published paper by itself cannot possibly determine which pronoun should be used.
    – cfr
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 22:58

Well, this whole depends on how you do feel. Any discussion about whether the reference is "correct" or "possible to follow" are rubbish, for two reasons:

  1. You can list both names, at least in the references. You can actually do this for any person with two names, even in cases of Kucherov/Kutcherov, even in cases of maiden names, whereever you wish. The way how you do it is discussed in the other answers. And once the references contain the correct information, you can divert in the text itself, because either people know what work you cite or they will have to check the references anyway. I also translate titles of cited works into English and provide both, if the reference is not in English.

  2. Names are not even a mandatory part of a reference. So while it's confusing to put the wrong name in the references, the reference should be trackable without the name, based solely on journal title, volume and page. Based on this, even the citation services such as ZB, AMS-MR, ISI or Scopus should be able to pick up; if not, a manual correction is always possible.

So in my opinion, it's up to you. I personally prefer to provide as complete and as current authors' names as possible, but this is really just a preference. The only problem could be if the journal insisted on providing the reference "as listed", which sometimes could even be an automated thing. I'm afraid that in that case you'll have to comply with the rules or draw the submission, but even there you can of course try to push, depending on how you feel it.

  • 4
    Whether names are a mandatory part of the reference depends on the style, which will be determined by the publisher/journal. In my field, author/year is common. I've never seen a journal not require name. And I have had journals/publishers query citations when they checked them.
    – cfr
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:31
  • Great point of listing both names. I have never seen a citation style in which you are not allowed to add your own notes to the citation. You could say "Smith, G. Advanced Deconstruction of Spline Reticulation with Respect to Post-Castro Cuban Foreign Policy. Journal of Splines. 1:34. Note that this excellent article by M. Smith was published under the name of G. Smith." Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 13:34

Our scientific handbook demand that external sources should be cited as precise as possible and should not be modified.

So you cite the policy, and then explore violating this?

For me, DSVA's comment:

This problem also occurs if you change your last name (usually because of marriage). The correct way to cite the old papers is using the old name.

clearly provides the longstanding approach. People being unable to find information in a database is a real, impacting reason to not pretend like history was something else.

Just because Smith made a decision to change his name is not compellingly professional reason to disregard established data entry standards that provide useful benefit.

I present to you an analogy: If United States President Ronald Reagan, in the final years of that person's life (which happened in 2004), quickly completed the official legal process to have that person's name changed to Rhonda Reagan, would you expect historical documents to change? For that matter, would you even expect modern texts to say "Rhonda Reagan won the election and she became the next President"?

Doesn't this student's non-fictional request boil down to exactly the same thing as that fictional scenario, which is asking for reference to what historically happened to be referred to different, based on the person's more recent decisions? Re-writing history is not desirable.

Would a change from G. Smith to M. Smith be acceptable/reasonable?

This change would not be acceptable. Academia has a goal to prepare students to enter a workforce that often has long-standing established expectations that workers are demanded to abide by. This goal permeates academia's culture, official policies, and often even coursework grading criteria. Many students struggle with some of the expected formality, and the demands can feel more traditional than what the students prefer to experience. Yet, students are expected to adapt if they want to achieve high marks (or even passing marks). Changing established procedure about name handling, just to accommodate the author's wishes, goes directly against academia pursuing this goal. That is why this change is not acceptable.

Like other professional environments, academia isn't necessarily the most appropriate platform for people to try to push their own desires, even when those desires may reflect goals that are in line with a currently-popular social stance.

Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation?

Yes. Resist the author's attempts to get you to overlook the person's name at the time of publication. The proper response for improper requests is resist. Decline the request.

Although such a change would be considered desirable by some people, in some environments, academia includes an amount of formality and demands that students accommodate society's expectations, not the other way around.

As policies should be able to be flexible when needed, the motivation of this request may have a significant impact on deciding whether the request should be agreed to. The motivation for this request appears to be driven from personal interests that are off-topic of most academic subject material. Therefore, granting an exception to general policy does not really seem to be in academia's best interest.

If a person wishes to have this procedure changed throughout academic culture, the desirable way to do this is not to make a request that an academic institution change long-standing institution behavior just to make a single individual student happier. So as to not provide an open door welcoming the next person to come up with a reason why policy should be set aside to fulfill personal desires, this request should be declined.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 15:35

Depending on how your citations are formatted, you will probably find the initial doesn't matter. For example, a reference listed as:

"Smith, M; Bloggs, J; Jones, A; Brown, B. J. Foo Bar, vol 6, p. 200, 2014."

is unlikely to be difficult to find even if a single initial is different and there's no DOI included. A reader will probably assume the different initial is just a typo, if they even notice it at all. The discrepancy is very minor.

If I saw that reference listed on a paper and tried to look it up I'd mostly use the journal details and publication date to find it, then author surnames as a cross-reference to make sure I'd got the right one.

If you really feel the different initial could be confusing, drop it entirely. Her surname hasn't changed, so by using that on its own you won't confuse any readers who find the names don't precisely match, nor will you be misgendering or deadnaming your colleague. Whatever you do, don't use her old name/initial. This would be exceptionally rude considering that not only do you know what her new name is, but she has also explicitly instructed you to not use her old one in this context.

  • 4
    Downvoted: The old initial was considered appropriate at the time the cited paper was published, so that's what the citation must mirror. The only possibly rude aspect I can see here is for the cited author to expect others to produce a mismatch between cited name and name actually found in the cited work and its metadata. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 9:18
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    @O.R.Mapper, although you are the obvious way literally correct, it is my impression that "the change" that trans people go through is so severely upsetting (even if a change for the better) that I'd prefer to "rewrite history" to match... Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 0:47
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    @paulgarrett: I suppose that's the issue then. I do not believe one can "rewrite history" by modifying a bibliography item - all one can achieve by that is pretend history had been rewritten and thereby create a lot of confusion and mismatching references. I consider causing these effects unethical (and, come to think of it, I consider the entire idea to "rewrite history" in the first place at least as ethically very questionable). Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 14:45

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