I'm a white person researching Asian history. Let's say I'm married and have taken my husband's name, which is unambiguously Asian (I'll use "Leung" for the examples). I'm unsure whether I should use my legal name for future publications, continue using my maiden name, or find some other solution. Here are my considerations:

Using my legal name

When people see "Leung" in the list of authors or speakers, they'll expect to see a Chinese person. For me to use this name seems misleading. They might expect a different level of language proficiency and a different personal relation to the subject than I actually have.
My husband is a second generation immigrant and has little interest in Asian history, so my marriage is irrelevant to my academic field.

Using my maiden name

My maiden name is a word that means "White". If I use this name and people find out that my legal name is Leung, they might feel like I'm trying to hide something. I don't have many publications under this name, so there's little benefit to continuing to use it. I also don't particularly identify with it, which is why I changed my name in the first place.

Other options

Many people in my situation seem to use a double name. However, this name would still not be my legal name, and being known as "White Leung" feels like a weird joke.

I could use a different name from my family tree, or some complete pseudonym. But this has both the drawbacks of not being my legal name, and also not being the name I have published under so far.

Is there a consensus on what should be done in this situation? Are there resources for people in a similar situation? Since there are many fields where the ethnic background of researchers is somewhat relevant (sociology, area studies, languages...) this must be a common problem.

Edit: Some commenters have expressed the idea that a researcher's ethnicity doesn't or shouldn't matter to their audience. I disagree. For one thing, researchers educated in Chinese universities often have a very different approach to historical topics than those in the west. One commenter has pointed out that this would not affect me, because my western education is declared in my CV. But even for western people of Chinese descent or origin, they will generally have a different perspective on Chinese history than someone who has no personal connection to the place.

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    I would say that anyone who makes assumptions about your ethnicity based on your name is jumping to a faulty conclusion, and that is their problem, not yours. You are not being misleading; rather, they are being stupid. I think any of the three options are perfectly viable, and it is up to your personal preference. Sep 11, 2017 at 17:28
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    I don't understand how your name is relevant to your area, and the quality of your work. Anyone who makes assumptions if your ethnicity is Asian, and how your ethnicity affects the quality of your work and your biases without even doing research is the problem, not your name or what your name reminds them of.
    – kukushkin
    Sep 11, 2017 at 19:39
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – aeismail
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:39
  • Whatever you choose, pick an pan-name and stick to it. It does not have to be your legal name. Nothing is more confusing than publishing under several different names. Most academics continue to publish under the same name, even when it has been legally changed. Your future readers and future you writing your CV will be grateful.
    – Tom Kelly
    Nov 17, 2017 at 7:39

4 Answers 4


I am a native speaking Chinese living in Taiwan. My field is in STEM, not Asian History. However, I have been reading quite a bit in Chinese history as a hobby since I retired in 2009. Still, I do not consider myself as a scholar in Asian History. Please take my answer as only amateur opinions.

You are right in that Chinese generally have a different perspective on Chinese history than someone who has no personal connection to the place. Actually, Chinese have different opinions on many issues in Chinese history among themselves. For example, there are different views on Qin Dynasty and its First Emperor.

If you pay attention to the reference and source sections of the Wiki page I provided above, you will see both Chinese names and Western names. Please note that I am saying Chinese/Western names, not Chinese/Western people because I don't know the people with Western names are actually Western or people with Chinese names are actually Chinese.

From this example, I hope you can see that the author name really does not matter. What matters most is the quality of the publication. As a personal opinion, I rather see a good quality paper written by a Westerner than a poor quality paper written by a Chinese on Chinese history.

I understand your concern that the readers of your publication may think you are a Chinese if you use your legal name. I think this might be true when they take the first glance at your publication. But, don't worry. They will soon find out it's written by a well Western-educated author. Your publication will tell them that. When I first read your question, I knew you have received well education in Western world because the way you wrote the question.

Now, I want to directly answer your question. I would use

Firstname White Leung

as the author name because this name accurately reflects your situation. "White" indicates you have Western connection. "Leung" indicates you have Chinese connection. It does not look weird to me at all. There is nothing wrong with telling people who you are.

In conclusion, I think your concern is reasonable given that your field is Asian history (If it's a STEM field, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.). Exactly because of this possible misunderstanding, you need to concentrate on your work to let your research speak for itself and not worry about the name you put on the publication.


Would this be true for an American of Chinese descent who didn't speak Chinese as a native language? Or who might have been adopted and therefore has no childhood experience of Chinese culture?

You do have a personal connection: you married a Chinese man and you are a serious scholar of Asian studies. If it's really true that it's culturally offensive in a way that would be professionally damaging, then use your maiden name or whatever name you feel represents you as you wish to be represented. But this seems a bit overwrought to me. If you identify with Leung, then use Leung, and just deal with the fact that some people might have a problem with it. You're already OK with being a non-Asian Asian studies scholar--what do you say to anyone who objects to that?

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    I don't think the name would be culturally offensive to readers, just that it would give people a wrong idea of who I am. Some individuals who believe that people of non-Asian heritage should not write about Asian history may even feel tricked. I can make arguments against their position, but not really against the fact that my name is Asian while I'm not.
    – pidan_dan
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:09
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    @pidan_dan It's too bad that this particular forum is populated mostly by people in STEM (myself included) for whom this specific issue is rather unfamiliar territory. But it overlaps a lot with concerns of people who belong to any "locally" marginalized group: You need to choose between presenting yourself as who you feel you are vs. presenting yourself as who others in the profession think you should be. Part of that decision is not just the tolerance of the environment, but your own personal tolerance for handling intolerance of who you are. Sep 12, 2017 at 18:19

Disclaimer: Pure opinion

In the US, people with racial names are more possible to get a lower response rate when applying for jobs compared to people with white names (ref). So, I do think you concern is totally legitimate. But I'd say before tackling this problem, sort out your thoughts and logic first. For example, you made a blanket statement

When people see "Leung" in the list of authors or speakers, they'll expect to see a Chinese person. For me to use this name seems misleading. They might expect a different level of language proficiency and a different personal relation to the subject than I actually have.

Then, immediately, you cited your own point of view that totally goes against the generalizing statement:

My husband is a second generation immigrant and has little interest in Asian history, so my marriage is irrelevant to my academic field.

First of all, who are these "they?" I'd love to believe that most academic professionals do not share the same traits as the general US employers: we look at CV, we look at the research, we look at your evidence and arguments. The they in your questions are, to be blunt, ignorant or irrational folks that either:

  1. Not directly related to your work, and hence likely an insignificant ripple in your life, or

  2. Extremely deterministic in your career, whom can crush you if they want, but in the same time you probably do not want to work with this person.

Give it some thoughts: who are these "they?" Do you want to live in constant worries because you can't please every ignorant and irrational person? Do you really care if those who consider non-Asians unqualified to study Asian culture value your work or not?

Second, focus on who you are first, not who you should be so that everyone will appreciate. Primarily which name to take on is your choice, and depending on how open you are you may consider your husband's input (I would wager that he does not care.)

Third, check your own bias, quotes like this should be more critically evaluated:

However, this name would still not be my legal name, and being known as "White Leung" feels like a weird joke.

Really? Whether a name is legal or not is purely procedural, I can change my name to "Red Fire Extinguisher" legally tomorrow if I want to; don't set up barriers for every one of your decisions. And if you yourself cannot treat your options seriously then you should not expect the same from others.

Basically, it's a dilemma and either one has pros and cons. I'd suggest looking into decision making tools (plenty of them in books like What Color is my Parachutes?) and lay out all the points and make a decision. Another way to deal is to randomly decide it, you may have a celebration with your husband and you two can randomly decide. There are web page (like this one) for these purposes, a die or a coin works as well.

My concluding thoughts are that: prioritize who you should care about. You're spending too much attention role playing in too many scenarios. The name itself does not make or break a scholar, invest in doing good quality work and I am sure you will find your collaborators and audiences.

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    This completely misses the point. This isn't about other people's ignorance or irrationality. The OP is concerned about giving the appearance of appropriating a Chinese identity as a white woman. This is a valid concern, but it seems to me that although she isn't "really" Asian, she does "really" have an Asian name, so it's a matter of her own personal comfort. Sep 12, 2017 at 19:23
  • @ElizabethHenning, thanks for pointing that out, I definitely would have missed the point to some extend as this is about identity and I cannot be 100% empathetic. Yet from the question her own personal comfort was centralized at how people see her as a legitimate Asian culture scholar, and my response wanted to point out that perhaps it does not matter as much as she thinks. Some white female is into Asian culture (to a point that she studies it) and got married to an Asian and decided to use his last name is just nothing that surprising to me... perhaps that's why I am not a culture scholar. Sep 12, 2017 at 19:54
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    Is "racial names" a thing?
    – Kimball
    Sep 12, 2017 at 22:07
  • @Kimball, I took the same wording from the reference link. So it has been used. I have no input on its legitimacy or validity. Sep 12, 2017 at 23:54
  • I have no doubts about what I want my legal name to be outside academia. I'm asking specifically about the context of my field of study, where even the most reasonable people will notice whether a person does or does not have an Asian background. The notion that non-Asians can't do (good) Asian studies is a really fringe opinion and not my main concern.
    – pidan_dan
    Sep 14, 2017 at 5:08

A consideration would be to abbreviate your last name(s).

  • Jane Smith becomes Jane S.
  • Jane Leung becomes Jane L.
  • Jane Smith-Leung becomes Jane S.L.

At the end of the day, perception is reality, given that you know the possible results, picking one or the other would have other effects, the decision (and its effects) are up to you.

  • Or "Jane Smith L.," I have a colleague who abbreviates her name like that. Sep 12, 2017 at 20:22

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