“An anatomist by any other name”: Name Changes in Academia

By Stefanie Attardi (Member of the Committee for Early-Career Anatomists) | April 27, 2022

Have you ever reflected on what your name means to you? Names can hold significance in different aspects of our lives. Your name is how people address you on a daily basis. Your name might indicate family ties and personal identities (e.g., gender, religious, racial, cultural, ethnic). In academia, where recognition is often a criterion for career advancement, your name is also the logo for your personal brand. At some point, and for some reason, you might consider changing your name. The decision can be challenging as you try to reconcile the different roles played by your name.

Discourse on this topic has historically focused on cis-gender heterosexual women’s last names, and to a lesser extent, transgender peoples’ first names (Pilcher, 2017). However, the current article was written with the diverse membership of the American Association for Anatomy in mind. To this end, AnatomyConnected users were invited to share their name change experiences and perspectives via email, and their kind responses have shaped the information and reflection questions to follow.

If you value congruence between your personal and professional lives, it may be desirable to uniformly change your name across all aspects of your life. The timing of the decision may play a role in the decision itself. Who have you been and what have you done thus far under your current name? How would you feel if your future roles and accomplishments were recognized using a different name? There is also the option to not change your name at all. How important, both sentimentally and practically, is it for you to share or not share the same name with others (e.g. family)?

If alignment within your own life is a non-issue, consider changing your name but still use your previous name professionally. What is your plan for managing two names at your institution and avoiding confusion? For example, human resource matters (e.g., payroll, reimbursement, benefits, compensation) will require your legal name.

If it is important to signify both a previous and new name, consider hyphenation (e.g., Previous-New) or adding the new name (i.e. Previous New). Does it matter to you that these options are not technically the same name as either the previous name or the new name? Does it matter that your name will be longer? Another option is to get creative with name position, for example, using your previous last name as a first or middle name. How will you ensure that others can properly distinguish between your first, middle, and last names?

If you want to make a name change and your circumstances permit it, consider the following tips and information:

(1) Register for a free Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID iD). An ORCID iD is a unique, persistent, alphanumeric digital identifier for researchers that links to their publications. The researcher can edit their ORCID iD profile name at any time, including a “name” and a “published name”. The ORCID iD also helps to distinguish between researchers who have the same name. Ninety-one publishing companies, including Wiley, are member organizations of ORCID (ORCID, 2022) and allow their authors to include their ORCID iD hyperlink on their publications.

(2) If you have a record of scholarly activities using a previous name, and are comfortable disclosing that name, your curriculum vitae (CV) provides a venue to indicate the change. Include your previous name in the header along with your new name. Throughout the CV, bold your name in all places it appears (e.g. publications). Other venues may include professional social media profiles, email signatures, and business cards.

(3) For academics who have changed their name to affirm gender identity, or for a sensitive reason, it may be unsafe or traumatic to disclose a previous name. Thanks to the advocacy work of a team of transgender scientists from the Name Change Policy Working Group (NCPWG, 2021), several large publishers recently issued updated name change policies (Nature, 2021). Many companies, including Wiley, now offer discreet changes to author names (for any reason) on a publication’s version of record, as well the author metadata utilized by indexing services. For more information, the NCPWG maintains a public spreadsheet of publishers or journals with existing name change policies and resources for authors.

(4) Familiarize yourself with your institution’s name policy. If your professional name differs from your legal name, you might be allowed to set a “preferred name” for some contexts (e.g., within the learning management system).

(5) For academics who are foreign nationals, consult an immigration lawyer before proceeding because your legal status (e.g., work visa, permanent residency) is associated with your passport. Familiarize yourself with the name laws and processes in your region. For example, in the United States, a “legal name change” typically means that your birth certificate is reissued under your new name and government-issued photo identification is changed. In comparison, “assuming a name” typically means that your name is changed on government-issued photo identification, but your birth certificate remains unchanged. Also be aware of the requirements for updating your passport in your country of citizenship if you change your name in a foreign country.

(6) Talk to trusted mentors and colleagues. You might be surprised by the willingness of others to speak candidly about their experiences and offer advice.

In the end, each situation is unique and very personal. Continue to reflect on the question: What does your name mean to you?

Acknowledgements: Thank you to the AAA members who shared their personal experiences and perspectives about name changes.

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