Aversion to name changes in academia

One of the things I recall learning somewhere (yeah, that’s not a good source) is that in academia, women tend to not change their names upon marriage because of the difficulty of having publications under two names because readers fail to recognize that you are the same person. Is this a real phenomenon, and is this the real reason, or is there another reason or a set of reasons? I can think of the following obvious reasons:

  1. It’s literally difficult to get along in academia if you have publications under different names. I was under the impression that one of the functions of professional librarians is to collate publications under a single author record, even if one went to the printing press with “John P. McDonald” as the author and another went to press as “J. Percival McDonald, Sr.”. The librarian is supposed to figure out that they are the same person and formally catalog the publications under one author record. Is this not the case? Are librarians as a profession actually unable to deal with substantive name changes such as establishing an Author Record that says, “Johnson, Mary Ann - SEE Smith, (Mrs.) Mary Johnson” that points to the Mrs. Mary Johnson Smith record that contains references to all of her works published under either name? Do any academic departments actually have policies or practices that academic publications published under a name other than your current one cannot be considered as your own? E.g. “Sorry, Mrs. Mary Smith, your past publications on quadratic hypotenuses were published under the name Mary Johnson and cannot therefore fulfill the requirements for an appointment to a professorship under your current legal name. Good luck for the future, the door is over there.”
  2. It’s actually a matter of most women in academia being liberal types who think that keeping their maiden name is the right thing to do for a proper feminist because taking a husband’s name means you “submit to the Patriarchy”, and name changes for other reasons, such as religious conversion, are considered more favorably. For example, if Ali Muhammad Akbar, a published academic, converts to Christianity and takes the name Timothy John Peter, does he literally forfeit his academic record and wipe his CV clean, or is it a matter of following up to make sure that libraries don’t goof up the name matching process?
  3. It’s just a social tradition that may have had valid practical reasons in the past, but now it’s “just the way it’s done here, you should do it too if you want to make it in academia and have the respect of your peers.”.

I would say that to whatever extent it exists it’s more of a tiny specialized example of a general condition that applies to women in every professional field.

My wife is not in academia. She did not change her name. Librarians aren’t the only ones doing searches, so are colleagues and students. In fact, I would say that librarians are rarely doing the literature searches. Most of my searches involve SciFinder which will cross references to authors on a paper. If names are changed, it won’t find them. I can’t remember the last time I had a librarian do a search for me.

I’m not sure what the relevance of librarians is to this discussion, honestly. Most academic publishing is in the form of journal articles, and most literature searching takes place in subscription databases.

As in any profession, general reputation is important in academia, especially within one’s specialty area. There is some mild concern that changing one’s name will make it more difficult for people to recognize your name on articles or conference panels or in general conversation. I don’t think that many people would decide not change their name solely for this reason, though.

As an aside. Would the Journal of X Important Stuff give a rat’s behind if you kept publishing under the name of Susan Smith when at some point you legally changed your name to Susan Jones when you married Bob Jones?

Having an in depth knowledge of the world of Journals of X Important Stuff, I’ll tell you the answer is no, they would not. If anything, they would care that Susan Jones was not using her original name despite any legal name change.

In grad school I got divorced, but since I already “had a name for myself,” I kept his last name. All my life.

I had a baby by artificial insemination years later and–guess what!–pretty much had to name him that. It’s like, No honey, he wasn’t your daddy either… :slight_smile:

STU-pid. I should’ve just changed it in college.

Is SciFinder not maintained by librarians? Is the search just a free text search, without any semblance of defining a list of author records and pointing each journal article to the correct author records? Then, the name actually printed wouldn’t matter.

If a publication goes to press with a misspelled name, what happens? If Carl Johnson’s groundbreaking work gets published under “Karl Johnson” because someone at the Journal of Quadratic Cosines was drunk or not paying attention, is he literally screwed?

These things will be looked up in databases, and there’s some chance he’ll be able to get those listings corrected. I think most databases now have some means of listing author aliases, and distinquishing similar names. That doesn’t mean the Scientific Index of Really Smart Stuff doesn’t have just as many drunks entering and correcting data though.

Reputation is very important in academia. If the scuttlebutt in your field is that Jill Jones is very smart and knows her stuff, you will pay attention to her publications and be more likely cite her in your own publications etc.; this improves her reputation further, and she will be much more likely to get tenure, promotion, offers of better jobs at better universities, invitations to speak at conferences,etc. If she gets married and starts publishing as Jill Smith, and this is not widely known (as it may not be, academic gossip in not necessarily gossip about personal lives), suddenly the number of people who actually read her work, let alone cite it, could take a nosedive, and her chances of getting that plum Harvard job could fade away. She is much better off continuing to publish under her own name.

Some academic women do do the hyphenation thing when they marry, but although this is probably better for them than just taking their husband’s name, it can certainly still lead to people not realizing that they are the same woman.

This is also a problem for people who are coming from a culture where names don’t follow the US model of first-middle-last. One of my colleagues is Malaysian and has six names, so he had to do some thinking about how to sign off on his first few papers.

What kind of women in academia do you know? I know quite a few, and if my dataset is representative for the general female population of academia, “proper feminism” and"submitting to the Patriarchy" aren’t particularly high up on their agenda. In fact, my WASG is that it’s pretty close to the bottom of their agenda.

Some women change their name upon marriage because it feels like the right thing for them. Some don’t, for exactly the same very good reason. Heck, I even know a guy who took his wife’s name when they married. For the first type of academic women, there’s a certain disadvantage to the namechange, for the reasons WarmNPrickly and njtt pointed out. If the woman thinks that changing her name is the right thing for her, she’ll live with that. OTOH, I also know quite a few women who didn’t take back their maiden name after the divorce, due exactly the same practical problems that some women face when they get married.

The online journal databases, such as PubMed, do not do well with name changes. For example, I have papers published as AB Charlie, Alpha B Charlie, and Al B Charlie. Usually due to coauthors not bothering to change my name when I’ve said, I publish under Alpha, not Al. AB vs. Alpha B is just journal convention, and still can confuse the online listings. Anyway, If you go to a paper I wrote as Alpha B Charlie, and click on my name, it won’t bring up the couple of papers where I’m a coauthor as Al B Charlie. Fortunately I have a very rare last name, so searching on that will bring up all of my papers, plus a few more by some other guys, but it’s easy to tell which are mine.

So, a woman keeping her maiden name in academia can genuinely be for career purposes. Now, I don’t sit on hiring committees, but it wouldn’t seem to be a problem to see a CV that said “published as Delta E Foxtrot until 2009 and Delta E Golf after.” However, if I was looking at a DE Foxtrot paper, I would probably have no way of knowing that followup articles were published as DE Golf.

Being in academia, I know women who have changed their name, not changed their name, and hyphenated their name. So, I think the authorship issue is a legitimate reason, but I don’t know if I’d weight it highly enough to be the only reason to not change your name.

I’ve also known at least one woman who said she’s Dr. Hotel, but Mrs. India. Professionally she goes by her maiden name, but socially she responds to her husband’s name. I believe her legal name is still her maiden name.

robert_columbia writes:

> Do any academic departments actually have policies or practices that academic
> publications published under a name other than your current one cannot be
> considered as your own? E.g. “Sorry, Mrs. Mary Smith, your past publications on
> quadratic hypotenuses were published under the name Mary Johnson and
> cannot therefore fulfill the requirements for an appointment to a professorship
> under your current legal name. Good luck for the future, the door is over there.”

No, that’s ridiculous. It may be inconvenient to have published under different names, but no department would be so stupid as to decide that publications don’t count if you didn’t publish them under your current name. In any case, when considering a candidate for a job or a promotion or for tenure, a department doesn’t do its own search for publications. It simply takes the publications off the list supplied by the candidate. If there is some chance for confusion, the candidate will include a note on her resume that she was formerly known as something else.

It’s partly a matter of convenience, so that everyone can keep straight who you are, and partly a matter of a greater tendency to do this among the social groups who tend to go into academia.

SciFinder Scholar is maintained by the vendor (specifically the American Chemical Society), and when you’re talking author names for journal articles, there’s no standard.

The search is not just a free text search, but the author names are indexed based on the information provided by each journal/publisher. And the format of those can vary from journal to journal depending on the citation format they require. Depending upon how you search for me, you might or might not get all my publications. For example:

[li]Lastname only - this will actually give you everything plus the 1-2 other people in academia with my last name. None of us are highly prolific, so this actually works best in this case. [/li]
[li]LastName, First Name - I think this comes up with 1 item[/li]
[li]LastName, First Initial - this gets three items[/li]
[li]LastName, FirstInitialTruncated - this gets everything again.[/li][/ul]

This is all because of the different ways the journal provides the citation information to the database vendor/aggregator.

What you’re talking about is something that some of the Linked Open Data projects have been working on. There are also options that individual authors may have access to in order to reduce the number of variations that are out there. But we’re a long way from having this done easily.

So, if I were to marry, I’d keep my last name, both for my academic reputation along with the fact that it’s my last name. I don’t see the need to change it.

I had a publication go to press with my name misspelled (journal’s fault), and if you look up that publication now, it shows “My Nane [corrected to My Name]” and will show up under a search for either. It did require some prodding to get the journal to submit the change; I couldn’t do it myself. That was 2002, perhaps it’s better now.

I have papers published under a variety of different forms of my names. Lots of people do. It’s no biggie.

I know of no group that tries to keep track of authors and link together a person’s name variations. Librarians? Why would it be their job?

Of the women I’ve known who have kept their name (and it’s not a high percentage), they seem mostly to be aware of the realities of life. I.e., divorce happens. Think long term.

And it’s not just women who change names on marriage (and divorce) in academia. I’ve known several hyphenated men. One of my old students was a hyphenated guy. Now he’s not. Oh, well.

Note that a lot of academics maintain homepages with a list of all of their publications. That makes it pretty easy to keep track of what they’re doing.

I suspect the thinking comes from general knowledge of the Library of Congress Name Authority File. That applies to their records for books, though, and while the same info is used for library catalogs, it’s not used for journal article authors.

Hell, most academic departments maintain a page for each faculty member, and those pages generally have a CV, which usually includes a list of publications, conference papers, committees, awards, fellowships, etc., etc.

My wife is an academic, and many of our female friends are married academics. In the humanities, where most of our friends teach, the practice of keeping one’s own last name is, in the majority of cases, at least partly rooted in the position (call it feminist, or not) that a woman should not need to change her name when she gets married.

Most women we know (including my wife) wouldn’t have changed their names even if they had been heading for a career outside academia.