There are some issues to consider about naming yourself in print, and a lot of these are not obvious at first. I’ve been talking with some of my students about this, because several are thinking about changing their names for a variety of reasons, including marriage and language.
If you are thinking about changing your name, you may as well think about what’s at stake in the options. And even if your name is staying the same, you still have some choice in exactly how you write it for publication. What matters in a publication name? First, consistency. When people do literature searches for your work, they ought to be able to find all your work with the same search. If you have multiple names, you want it to be for a reason, such as fiction writers who write in different genres under different names. Second, distinctiveness. Having your professional identity mixed up with another’s is probably not as bad as having your Social Security records scrambled in with someone else’s, but it comes close. Folks with common names have a much harder time of this than others, and there are some unhappy cases of people with very similar names who happen to be working in very similar fields. If you have a common surname, include your full middle name in your publication name, not just your middle initial. It is also ideal if your surname and initials are unique in your field. I originally published without my middle initial because my name is not common, but I discovered there was another social scientist with the same surname and first initial doing related work; when I added the middle initial, I became unique in the citation index and reference formats that use initials only. Third, non-ambiguity. It is best if it is clear to all what is your surname and what is your first name and what is your middle name; if you have multiple-name names, it may be worthwhile to eliminate spaces or add hyphens to make the name clear to everyone. People with Spanish-system two-name surnames are probably best off hyphenating the surname so it gets treated properly.
A lot of people change names when they marry. This used to be mostly women, and I know many women whose professional writings are scattered across two or three (or more) surnames. This has generally hurt their careers, as they appear less productive than they actually have been. An exception is the scholar who got the first Golden Fleece award while bearing the name of a husband; when she divorced, she was able to dump the name and the infamy. Professional women have long struggled with what to do about names and have made many different choices: keep original name, take husband’s name, hyphenate, use the original name professionally and the married name socially, use birth surname as middle name. Lots of women are using a name that honors a spouse they no longer have, because they did not want to lose the public identity built around that name.
These days, men as well as women are deciding whether to change their names upon marriage. I don’t know of many who just take their wife’s name, but a fair number are hyphenating or creating new joint names; the student who is contemplating a marriage-related name change is a man. This is all very romantic and egalitarian, but it can be awkward if the marriage does not work out, when you have to decide whether to change your name again or go through life with a name that reminds you of some unhappy parts of your life. If you are going to change your professional name upon marriage, you need to marry before you first publish or live with the costs of the multiple-names problem. This is not always convenient, and it is not generally recommended to hold back on publication while you get your love life on track.
(Personal aside: I got married when I was still in college and was ambivalent about whether to change my name. The department secretaries, who were divorced, urged me not to get my name all tangled up with someone who might or might not be around all that long. I equivocated for a while, using various options but not making the commitment of changing my driver’s license, and ended up just sticking with my own name. As it turned out, I’ve been married 38 years, but I’ve still never regretted keeping my own name. We gave our kids both names and told them our family was named after them. People who knew us through the children referred to us by the double name and had trouble remembering which parent went with which name. This was fine with us. People who know only one of us tend to call the other by the wrong surname; we are not offended when this happens, and whether we bother to correct the error depends on context.)
Another big reason to change names is language. A prominent Dutch social psychologist decided to simplify his first name(s) from Pieter Gebertus to Bert when he first published in American journals. Similarly, Europeans and Americans who study and publish in China often adopt Chinese names for their Chinese publications. One of my Korean students is adopting an English first name because she is tired of people mispronouncing her name or – worse – avoiding talking to her because they don’t know how to say her name. Her first publication is coming up, and we were discussing fine-tuning exactly what name she will use. Her choice involves the form X.Y. Engname Name, where Name is her surname, Engname is her English first name, and X.Y. are the initials of her personal name. I worried that her citations would be all over the map, as some would be to Name, XY, some to Name, XE. I was suggesting X. Engname Name. In English, the equivalent issue is whether someone whose first name is Mary Ann and wants to go by the middle name Elizabeth should name herself M.A. Elizabeth or M. Elizabeth. Another possibility I thought of while writing this post might be X.-Y. Engname Name, although this may be too much. We did not reach resolution, but I raised issues she had not considered, especially as there is someone else in her subfield who is Name, XY.
Although it seems pretty rare in the academy, there may be something to be said for some intentionality in changing your name for publication purposes. If you have a very common surname, perhaps you could take the opportunity of marriage to make it more distinctive by hyphenation, whether or not the marriage lasts. This has been done. If marriage is inconvenient or illegal for you, perhaps you could hyphenate or modify your name anyway, choosing a name that works well. Another reason to alter your publication name is to make it fit the name everyone thinks you have. If you want everyone to call you Bill, perhaps that might be a reason to publish under the name Bill, even if your given names are Stephen Mark.
In case you are wondering, under U.S. common law people may use any names they wish so long as they are not doing it to defraud. Or, rather, any man may do so. The exception to the common law is that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that states may compel a married woman to use her husband’s surname on official state documents such as drivers’ licenses, even if she is otherwise known by a different name such as the name on her birth certificate. As I now live in a state that does not have such a compulsion, perhaps I will not be doing great danger to myself in reporting that in the past I knowingly defied this ruling.