I would like to get some advice on what may or may not be a problem, namely the lack of unique identifiers for scientific authors.

So there is a researcher with the same first and last name as myself, who works in a different field (physics vs computer science), but is in a similar stage of academic career (PhD candidate).

Are there potential problems? Is there a danger that publications are associated wrongly, with negative consequences for either one of the authors? Will this cause confusion in databases like arXiv?

What would you suggest?

  • don't care?
  • disambiguate by adding middle initials to future publications?
  • ...

When I add initials for future publications, is there a change that I might somehow "lose" 3 earlier publications?

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    This is a very interesting question -- it would be kind of nice if someone can offer some advice not arguing for/against signing name change -- for those of us who do not have middle names. That is the norm in my country (and many other European countries): we get a first name and a last name, and that's it. Fortunately, I didn't find a publishing researcher with my name up until now, but you never know. – penelope Apr 16 '13 at 12:29
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    An interesting solution is by Robert Smith? who added a question mark to his name. mysite.science.uottawa.ca/rsmith43 – user4383 Apr 16 '13 at 14:50
  • @penelope agreed. All of those suggestions are going to run into at least some of the mis-assumptions about naming exhaustively collected under: kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/… – Dan Neely Apr 16 '13 at 15:15

First, you don't lose anything by adding initials. They will make it easier to search for your name in databases, until the day comes when academia has a unique/canonical researcher ID scheme in place.

If you have a middle name (or middle names), you can use those. If you don't, just choose a "pen name" by adding initials, chosen to make the combination of your name + initials unique (for now, of course… you cannot do anything about someone having the same name and starting to publish in a few years). I recommend doing that.

What can happen is that other people searching for your publications in the future might miss your first three papers. But if you have a publication list on your webpage (you have a webpage, right?), it's no big deal. Also, three seems like a large number now, but it will not always be that way.

  • As I said in the comment to the question... It seems the problem is "what if another researcher has the same name". Do you have any proposed solutions for those of us born only with a first and a last name? (No middle names, and thus, no initials, in a big part of Europe). – penelope Apr 16 '13 at 12:47
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    @penelope Create yourself a “pen name” by adding initials! If you are “John Smith”, publish your papers as “John K.W. Smith”. This is what I tried to say in my answer, I will edit to highlight that part. – F'x Apr 16 '13 at 12:59
  • You should not create name to fight a broken system. Fix the author ID system! – userJT Apr 18 '13 at 19:25
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    @user56 the use of “should not” reflect a moral component to your opinion, which I do not really understand. Pen names are common through history, and adding an initial does no harm. I offered a practical solution to a real problem. Your suggestion (“fix the author ID system”) is a worthy goal, but not a practical solution. – F'x Apr 18 '13 at 20:31
  • Regarding pen names, see academia.stackexchange.com/q/8603/64 – Joel Reyes Noche Dec 20 '13 at 13:35

One, which is a common solution, it to have a webpage and make it explicit who you are (and who you aren't). See e.g. contact info at (one of) Mark Newman's webpage:

I am not the only professor called Mark Newman at the University of Michigan. I'm the physicist who works on networks. There is another Mark Newman in the UM School of Information who works on human-computer interaction.


There are several other scientists named "Noah Snyder" and I've never had any problems with confusions. Obviously if you were in the same field you'd need to do something, but my 2 cents is that since you're in different fields why worry about it?

One simple thing you can do is set up a google scholar profile, so that google scholar will be able to distinguish which papers are yours. Note that you'll need to do that even if you add initials.


Open Research Contributor ID (analog of DOI to researcher names) has been proposed recently to solve the problem. - http://orcid.org/ However, it is just out and is not yet widely adopted in industry. If you change your "academic name" to disambiguate then you can always contact arxiv and other systems asking to merge two authors. I did that for DBLP which is very important in Computer Science. But in general, if you are not John Smith, having not so unique name is not a problem in academia:)

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    DBLP is actually quite responsive about both merging records for people with multiple names (one example and another) and disambiguating multiple people with exactly the same name (one example and another). It's not perfect, of course, but what is? – JeffE Apr 16 '13 at 16:26
  • Publishing indistry should change just like we now have ISBN for every book. Artist are working towards an ID as well – userJT Apr 18 '13 at 19:27

After having just one publication out of my MSc and during the early years of my PhD studies, I married. One of my decisions was to change my name; from Mikael Johansson to Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson, adding my wife's name.

One of the larger reasons I did this was because there is already a well established Mikael Johansson in a nearby field of research, with whom I had already been confused in academic contexts.

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    So, do are you suggesting getting married to solve that issue? ;) – Piotr Migdal Apr 16 '13 at 13:17
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    Marriage and name change would probably solve my problem, but there's a certain overhead associated with that solution. – clstaudt Apr 16 '13 at 14:47
  • It happened to be a convenient source of a new name that was happening for other reasons anyway. :-) – Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson Apr 17 '13 at 14:41

I have the same problem. First, I would make a decision on how many initials to put on the papers and then stick to it. There are many different "standards", some use two initials (US?), some three (British?), while in, for example, many central European countries one intial seems ot be the norm (there may be more to it than this). In any case, you can use as many as you feel comfortable with and so that you feel you can be distinguished from others in the same or related fields.

If you have namesakes in other, to yours, non-related fields, it would normally not be much of a problem since the article titles would give it away.

The important thing is to make a choice and stick with it. It will then be easier to find your references in databases etc.

An associated problem may occur if you marry and change name for that reason. You then have a different problem to sort out. See for example the question Indicating a name change after publication


Definitely do what you can to ensure lack of ambiguity. It will make so many things easier: getting promoted, finding number of citations, etc. It is better to have a unique name, even if you lose 3 earlier papers. It is only 3. The future has more.

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    And no, you won't lose those three papers. After all, they'll still be listed in your CV and linked on your web page. Right? – JeffE Apr 16 '13 at 16:28

Get an ORCID ID - https://orcid.org/register. This is an international, non-profit initiative to "provide 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"

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