Ask Sciencewomen: What name should I publish under?

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgThe following email appeared in my inbox yesterday, and I thought some of you might have some more thoughts to share.

Dear ScienceWoman,

I recently discovered your blog, and have a question regarding academic publishing. I am just now entering a PhD. program, and plan to get married in about 2 years. Given the nature of my particular field, it is expected I will have at least co-authored one paper before the wedding. After marriage, I plan to take his name, for a number of reasons, including the commonality of my last name compared to his name. My question is this: should I start publishing under the name I anticipate being on my diploma? Is there any common protocol for pen names in academic publishing?


My answer is below the fold.

Hi EngagedGrad,

What a great question! I strongly recommend that you publish the papers pre-marriage under your maiden name. Here are my reasons why:

  1. You can always make a note on your c.v. that you are Married nee Engaged and that papers X, Y, and Z were published prior to your marriage and name change. This is something I've seen before.
  2. You are probably only talking about one or two papers anyway. Those papers will be useful to you when you are done with grad school and are looking at post-docs, but in that process it is hopeful that prospective hiring committees will get past PubMed/ISI and actually look at your CV. Once you are married and farther in the PhD process, you'll be able to write plenty of papers under your new last name. Those are more likely to be the papers on which your scientific reputation is earned.
  3. Also, I'm not aware of anyone who's published scientific journal articles under an assumed name, though I'm sure it has happened. I'd be concerned about the giving the appearance of deception.
  4. If you submitted a paper pre-marriage and you got married before it got published, you could probably write a nice note to the editor explaining that you'd like your name changed on the paper.
  5. Finally, if something unexpected happens and you do not get married to your sweetheart or you decide to keep your own name, you don't have to go through the rigamarole of explaining to anyone how you didn't change your name really, but you did change your publication name. Again, my concern would be the appearance of deception.

FWIW, I got married at the beginning of my PhD program and decided to keep my own name. You can see my thoughts on the subject on my old blog. I'm very very happy I kept my own name, but to each her own. Congratulations on getting engaged and starting the PhD program. Good luck with the science that makes the pubs. Don't count your chickens before they hatch!


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Once married, you can publish with both last names: Firstname MaidenName NewLastname. That's what I do. In the rest of my life, I go by Firstname Lastname.

I would not publish under your married name before the weedding.

By Female Enginee… (not verified) on 12 Jun 2009 #permalink

Excellent advice SW! When I first started grad school I was married. Shortly afterwards we separated en divorced. Luckily I hadn't published any papers yet at that time. But I did learn from it.

All my papers have been published under my maiden name, even after I remarried. I also didn't take my husband's name this time around (I'd had enough of the name-changing thing), but that wouldn't have made any difference. I would always have continued publishing under my maiden name.

I think it would be highly problematic to publish scientific journals under a name you don't yet have, and don't expect to have for another 2 years.

One option would be (although it would cost), is to legally change your name now to what you expect it to be. Then you don't have to change it in 2 years. I assume that takes away the magic of assuming your beloved's name at the time for marriage, but I think that might be a way to start using the name ahead of time.

Congratulations on entering your brand new program, and your engagement!

My son and his sweetheart got married, simply didn't change their names. They are Mister AB and Missus CD. Whatever they publish, they'll use the same names they've always had.

It'll probably cause some confusion at parties, though. Among people my age. Their contemporary hip contemporaries will have no difficulty with it.

Great advice all around. I faced a similar situation many years ago when I was still a newbie graduate student (though I was getting married at the end of my first year). I ended up enacting Female Engineering Professor's suggestion for publishing pre/post marriage, mostly because it is tradition for the wife to take the husband's last name but then to move her maiden name to her middle name. (Actually, when the couple has children, all the kids are given the mom's maiden name as their middle name too. I now appreciate this, but it was a little challenging as a kid when everyone had middle names like "Kate" or "John" and mine was "unpronounceable collection of a few consonants and many vowels".) At any rate, this has worked very well for me, and I've recommended it through the years to other engaged grad student friends.

SW's comments on how these early papers/submissions will be seen in the long run are also helpful to keep in mind (I mean seriously, those first pieces were a little... unpolished).

Cheers to you, EngagedGrad, and best of luck!

Regarding Point 3, an historical aside: William Gosset published most of his statistical works under the pseudonym Student, including the papers in which he introduced what came to be known as "Student's t-distribution." He did so to get around intellectual property restrictions imposed by his employer, Guinness (the brewery).

Oops - accidentally deleted a key part there. The second sentence should read:

"I ended up enacting Female Engineering Professor's suggestion for publishing pre/post marriage, mostly because IN MY FAMILY'S NATIVE CULTURE it is tradition for the wife to take the husband's last name but then to move her maiden name to her middle name."

In my country everybody keeps their birthname legally, although married women may use their husband's lastnames for scoial purposes. So I never had a problem (or a choice).

But I do know that a friend of mine from a different country has papers were her surname is one of the following:
Kind of underlines in your cv something about your private life. I'm not sure I would like that.

I know several people who publish and attend conferences as Dr Nee but are otherwise known as Mrs Husbandsname - does make life easier for PubMed/WoS. In the UK at least this is easily dealt with for banks etc. by registering 'Dr Nee' as your nom de plume - apparently the system is well established for writers and artists who work (and get paid for some of their work) under a different name than their day-to-day one

As you might guess from my tag...I decided to keep my maiden name for publishing/professional purposes. In my case the decision was aided by the fact that Jekyll is much less common than Hyde, so I wanted to keep Jekyll for Pubmed anyhow, whereas you appear to have the reverse situation.

I agree with SW that you should not publish under your married name until after you get married--but wanted to offer the option that you can continue to publish under your maiden name after you're married, even if you take your husband's name legally. You'll spend about 15 minutes explaining this situation to HR every time you get a new job and you want your directory listing to be Maiden but your social security card says Married, but they're generally able to deal.

my husband is not in a field where publishing is important - so he took my name. it also happens that my last name is much much much less common than his pre-marriage last name.

Keep using your maiden name, even after you get married. It's your work, not your husband-to-be's. Also, marriages tend not to last. And even if they do, you might get widowed and remarry.

It is much easier to explain that you publish under your old name than to get other people's literature searches to calculate the right H-index for you if name isn't stable.

By Peter Lund (not verified) on 12 Jun 2009 #permalink

I have seen several ABM (about to be married) students publish using a hyphenated maiden-married last name when they knew they were going to change their name. No dishonesty there. I personally have a hyphenated name from my first marriage. I am now remarried but still publish under my hyphenated name because that's who I am and have been for a long time. I have also published under a pseudonym as part of a large group of authors - the journal wouldn't allow us to list all the authors because they thought there were too many so we decided to list none of them and include only a pseudonym that represented all as well as listing a corresponding author. No one cared.

By Science Prof (not verified) on 12 Jun 2009 #permalink

I've kept my maiden name (though I've given up trying to explain it to elderly relatives, and have decided not to get insulted by any name I'm accidentally called, up to and including "Mrs. Honolulu" by students).

But I've run into a different issue: the rest of the name. When I first started publishing, I used my first and middle initials. (This is going to sound like a hideous case of internalized sexism, but: "Kimberly" did not sound like a scientist's name to me. It sounded like the Pink Power Ranger.) So I published as "K.A." But then I called myself "Kimberly A." in some things, and my students called me "Kim" when they submitted abstracts with me as a co-author (in the days before electronic submission), and I'm a co-author of another abstract as Hannula Kim. Anyway, my advice is to choose one name (the entire thing) and stick with it.

BTW, I read something in Science recently about a possible author ID system. Everyone gets an ID number to identify them. The discussion focused on the difficulty of figuring out which Smith or Wang is which, but I think it would be even more helpful for women trying to figure out which family traditions versus professional traditions to follow.

Whether you write under your maiden name or your married name, it really doesn't matter. Plenty of people do both.

Last time I checked, the indexing systems still didn't recognize people with multiple names as the same person, even when they were able to find information that tied the two names together. I wrote a four part series on this a few years ago:…

One of my mentors in grad school gave me only two pieces of life advice: one was to publish using your maiden name no matter what. She herself is a happily married woman but her research is known with her maiden name only.

PS. the other was about driving while thinking about your research problem. The advice is: DON'T!

My first three papers syn-PhD were using my maiden name. Not only did it seem too complex to try to publish using my married (to an academic) name, it didn't seem right (i.e. giving credit to my husband's family and not mine) and I have heard of at least one example of an academic couple in the same field whose surname swap didn't go so well: maiden name publications under smith, then once married, under smith-jones, then after divorce, smith again. Very confusing and a little TMI...

I think many people have good reasons to publish under a variety of situations. From my vantage point, whatever name I start publishing on will be the name I keep publishing on. However, I find it a bit sad that some commentors are saying, "Don't publish under your married name because your marriage is not likely to last." For all any of us know, our career as people needing to publish papers in a certain field may not last; we may transition research areas, choose another career path, decide to move to an institution that values us more as teachers, etc. EngagedGrad, I think you should go with your gut level feeling provided that does not mean deception. Marriage reflects but one reason why someone would change their name.

I agree with SW's advice. Definitely publish current research with your current name. Your CV will cover the rest (and I also agree that the first papers are probably not going to be the ones you build your career reputation on, so it's ok if they fall off the PubMed search radar a decade from now...)

Dear SciWo -

This is off topic, sort of, but one thing you said made me think of it:

I am curious what you did about Minnow's last name. Like you, I kept my name when I got married and now that I'm having my first baby, I am undecided about what last name to give "Baby Field Notes." I don't want to hyphenate for a variety of reasons. I'd love to hear what you decided to do, and more importantly, why.

In response to Field Notes:

When my mother got married, she and my dad both kept their own names. My surname is the same as my dad's and my middle name is my mother's maiden name. I don't remember this ever being a problem or even feeling weird about it as a kid: it wasn't like she was a defective Mum - or, I presume, wife - because she had a different surname.

When I got married, my husband and I kept our own names. For our son, we've followed the South American tradition (which is simple for us, since my husband is Colombian):
FirstName FirstSurname SecondSurname
where FirstSurname is my husband's surname
and SecondSurname is my surname.

(It works well for us because in Australia, people read SecondSurname as "the surname"; in Colombia, people read the complete surname, i.e. FirstSurname SecondSurname, so both families are happy. Our son can decide for himself which name he passes on to his kids...)

By Annie Hughes (not verified) on 19 Jun 2009 #permalink

I think it would be highly problematic to publish scientific journals under a name you don't yet have, and don't expect to have for another 2 years.

I think it's quite selfish for the parents (man & woman) to keep their names or join their names through hyphenation when getting married if they are planning to have babies. It creates a lot of children with long double names - what are they going to do when they get married later (ditch mum or dad's name?, have double hyphenated double names?). I think it is a very good idea for a couple to agree on one short name for the family.
For publishing, I guess it does not matter on the long-term how one decides, since eventually people will get used to the new name. I like the idea of having a pen name, but find it hard to decide where to draw the line. I think I'll do maiden name for all parts of work that are public (publishing, teaching, lab, conferences), but family name for paycheck, insurances etc. I do find it very hard to decide if I want to be two people, one at work and one in private.

By Undecided (not verified) on 24 Sep 2009 #permalink

Hi everybody! Stumbled onto this site while googling up answers to my own question... it's awesome! I hope people are still around because I have a different, but related question:

I have a long name. Alyssa Jennifer S. Avestro. Two first names (un-hyphenated), a middle initial of my mom's maiden, and my dad's last name. I've used this name for all of my serious reports, transcripts, resume, diplomas, applications, etc. But this name seems long for publishing! ! No one calls me Alyssa Jennifer, and I never use those initials, A.J.S. Avestro. I've always used A. Avestro regardless.

But everywhere else (vmail outgoing msg, email to friends & colleagues, homework, everyday chatting), I use simply Alyssa Avestro.

I'm an undergrad about to finish up my B.S. in chemistry and am publishing my first paper. Just wondering which name seems more appropriate to publish under. Thoughts? Thanks!

By chikaboomm (not verified) on 21 Oct 2009 #permalink

I think a lot of this discussion misses the point and overlooks a very simple answer.
My wife has published under her maiden name, first married name, hyphenated second married name and now just the second married name. She has the same concerns as everyone here.
The simplest answer would be for pubmed or any other scientific search engine to allow authors that have changed names to link all of their publications together.
That way we could all call ourselves what we want to and not have to worry about any professional reasons.

Thanks a lot for this note! I am currently dealing with a similar problem: I would love to take my future husbands name, and I will most likely get married in about 1 or 2 years. Currently, I am preparing my first manuscript for publication and am targeting a high-ranking journal as I am lucky having found some great results. So the argument of the first publication to have a lower impact on scientific reputation is a bit weak in that point. Anyway, I am wondering if its possible to take the husbands name for "every day life" and keep the maidens name for the "scientific life". Or might that be too confusing? The second problem might be a bit off-topic, but there is already an author publishing under my maidens name with the same first letter of his first name as mine. So, if my name is Andrea Nobody and there is already an author "A. Nobody", would that lead to confusions as well?
Another, if not really romantic solution would of course be to get married as fast as possible, so that I could already publish under my husbands name... But I am not happy with that at all as this should not be the reason for getting married. And the question of what happens if one gets divorced still remains unsolved.

@chikaboomm: I would publish as A.J.S Avestro, because it is very unlikely that anybody else will ever publishes under the same name. So this is probably more unique than just A.Avestro. Although I can't find somebody named Avestro when searching on the Web of Science.

I am wondering if anyone knows whether you are permitted to publish under your first and middle name in academic journals. I got married and would like to take my maiden name as my middle name and my husband's name as my last name. I want to continue to publish only under my first and "new" middle name though. Are there any rules on this? Please let me know if you have any insight. Thanks!

I'm pretty sure (in the UK at least) you can choose to use your middle name, or maiden name (or any pen name presumably) for work, even if it's not your legal name, as you're deemed to be acting on behalf of your employer.

By decidingonaname (not verified) on 12 Feb 2010 #permalink

I have the opposite problem...I have 2 publications and am just now getting a divorce. I do not know whether I should keep my soon-to-be ex-husbands last name for publishing and networking purposes (I am applying to doctoral programs and those who I've met in my field already know me by my current last name), or if I should go back to my maiden name. I'm thinking that, as I only have 2 publications and do not yet have my PhD, it may not be too detrimental to change back to my maiden name. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Your feedback would be appreciated.

My advice to Meredith: Use the name you feel most comfortable with as a whole person, not just as a brain-on-a-stick in academic. I've seen plenty of CVs where the name changes part way through with a simple note for explanation. Your note doesn't even need to explain why, simply "In 2008-2010, I published as M Mulraney. In 2011 and thereafter, I published as M MaidenName." Good luck with your divorce.