Changing publication name mid-career as a trans academic?
November 26, 2017 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm a middle aged academic working my way through a gender affirmation process. I've been publishing under my given name for a long time, and am trying to work out how (or when) to alter the name I put on publications. Any thoughts on how to do this with minimal fuss would be appreciated!

Imagine my legal name is Alexander Saltbush. I've been publishing under that name for 15 years while informally going by Alex. I've never liked using a nickname as my publication name, so I've always used a formal "Alexander O. Saltbush" when publishing journal articles. To make it easy to index my work, I have a long track record of using exactly this name on every publication and have never varied it.

Over the last 18 months or so I've been dealing with my ongoing gender dysphoria issues, and that's led to a slow but steady gender transition process. As that's unfolded I've been going mostly by Alexa as a nickname, and I'm finding I like it much more than I've ever liked Alex. I've moved a little slower on pronouns for a bunch of reasons (mostly to give my friends and family time to adjust, and especially to give my partner time to work out their own feelings about my gender situation), but as far as I can tell I have a pretty clear personal preference for she/her. To the extent that any gender affirmation can go smoothly, it's going okay I guess!

In response to all this, my close colleagues have (not surprisingly!) started listing me as "Alexa" on manuscripts, for the obvious reason that they're trying to respect my preferences and use the name I have been using for myself! The awkward thing for me is that I still think of Alexa as a nickname, and I don't want a nickname on an academic publication: I don't especially want to use Alexa in this context for the same reason I didn't use Alex. To me, an academic paper is a formal thing, and I prefer to use a formal name - as it stands, my legal name is "Alexander" and if I were going to change it legally I would definitely go to "Alexandra" rather than "Alexa". In the long run, if I ever get to that point in transition, I would absolutely prefer to be Alexandra O. Saltbush on my publications.

But I'm not there yet, and I don't know what to do while I'm in the middle of working everything out.

I feel deeply uncomfortable altering my name from "Alexa" to "Alexander" when editing a document (I feel like I'm misgendering myself, every time I do it, and it's starting to feel extremely aversive) but I'm also uncomfortable leaving "Alexa" on a publication when I have no intention of having that be my publication name in the long run. There's a part of me that really wants to just say fuck it and switch to "Alexandra", but that has the feeling of coming out publicly to the field (rather than to just my coworkers). That would be fine if my transition was a completely inevitable thing and everyone in my life were ready for it, but that's not where I'm at. My partner and I are still talking through all the implications for our personal lives, and it feels bizarre and kind of disrespectful for me to make such a public statement like this while the personal stuff is still under discussion. But I can't put the publication name issue on hold either - this is academia, and "publish or perish" doesn't go on hold while I work out my personal issues!

Ultimately what bothers me is that "publication name" feels like a pretty minor issue in the big scheme of things, and it's irritating me way out of proportion to its importance. I'd appreciate thoughts from anyone, but especially anyone in academia, anyone transgender, or anyone who has dealt with this sort of thing. Thanks in advance!
posted by saltbush and olive to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you considered using a first initial, at least for the time being? Assuming you plan to remain as "A. O. Saltbush", the initials should still apply to you, and they're relatively noncommittal.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:17 PM on November 26, 2017 [15 favorites]

I would just ask them to use Alex. A lot of publishers require a first name for authors, not just an initial. It ties your two identities together for now, without a firm comittment to the transition. However, it also acknowledges in some small way that you are not currently Alexander. Personally I'd just use Alex forever to keep my fans from getting confused, but I respect your plans to commit fully to Alexandra.
posted by Kalmya at 7:36 PM on November 26, 2017

If you don't want to use initials, you may want to think about whether using Alexandra would actually be outing you in your personal life. None of my friends have ever read or seen my journal articles unless I sent them to them, and certainly none of my spouse's friends did. Your situation may be different based on your field and social circle, but raising the possibility with your partner might make sense.

This is also dependent on your field and which specific publications you're submitting to, but publication time lags/ the revision process may give you a chance to postpone your final decision.
posted by metasarah at 7:39 PM on November 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not an expert on this, but maybe reading up on how Joan Roughgarden dealt with it might help? Looks like on Wikipedia "J. Roughgarden" was being used?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:41 PM on November 26, 2017

Publication name may not feel very minor if your academic career is a big part of your life. I'm a cis academic, I've never changed my publication name, but I've known a few people who have (for various reasons, including gender transition). How big of an effect this will have on your life depends on how well-known you are and what career stage you're at.

If you are still applying for jobs (as in, you'd like a tenure-track position but don't have one, or you're looking for postdocs or industry jobs) then your publication record may matter for job purposes, but keep in mind that whenever anyone is evaluating you they will have your CV which will list your publications (so I don't think you should be too concerned about interviewers not finding papers).

I do think you should be (very mildly) concerned about other researchers being able to find your work, though. Different paper clearing-houses have different policies regarding researchers who change names; if you do decide on a change, it's worth your while to make sure the ones relevant to your field have linked records across name changes so people can find your older work easily. (There's an older paper I sometimes have a little trouble finding because one of the authors changed names and not every search site linked the records!) How much of an issue this is may also depend on the uniqueness of your last name; the more uncommon in your field the better.

If there are people in your community who only know you by your papers (this happens to me; sometimes people refer to me as Fullname which I never go by), then they may notice the change. I think they'd be less likely to notice the use of an initial instead, if you are uncomfortable with your old Fullname but want to be quieter about the change for now.

If you are very well known, such that something is named after you, your mileage may vary. However it's probably named after your last name so this change is unlikely to be remarked on. (There is someone in my field who changed last names after having something named after them, and there isn't perfect agreement on how to refer to the thing now that the person changed names; it's probably not-so-great that this person's name change comes up every time the thing named after them does).
posted by nat at 7:53 PM on November 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

In the interests of maintaining continuity with the rest of your bibliography I would suggest that you simply use your initials, A.O, for the rest of your publishing life. As long as your last name and affiliations remain consistent, people should be able to track your work. If a journal puts up a stink about using a first initial, fuck 'em. Either tell them what you told us and get your work presented with the initializing you want or your page fees will be delivered elsewhere.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you want to keep using "Alexander" for now for continuity, but have discomfort about it because this no longer feels like your name. So two conflicting desires. Is that right? I think you could make the argument to yourself - and your colleagues - that you are keeping your legal name on your publications (Alexander) until you've legally changed it. That seems like it could be an appropriate time to change all documentation from publications to drivers licenses to gas bills.
posted by Toddles at 8:37 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you familiar with ORCID? Regardless of the name you choose to publish under, an ORCID ID will allow you to tie all of your publications together under a single permanent identifier that can be linked to other services like Web of Science.
posted by xylothek at 6:29 AM on November 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

I know two people who have changed gender as academics. Both chose a new name with the same first initial as their old name, and now have a long history of publishing under that new name. At least one started publishing under new name quite soon in the process.

Two things help: first, at least in my field, we generally search PubMed by "Saltbush A[au]" - so all that really matters is the first initial. Second, things like ORCID and ResearchGate and PubMed make it much easier to compile a list of your own pubs under both names, and those pages do turn up in search results.

I'd go ahead and start using the new name as soon as you want, once you've settled the personal stuff out. Best wishes.
posted by Dashy at 8:34 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a Econ Prof at UIC, Deirdre McCloskey , who may be able to help you. Email her and see.

Edited to add: Also, best wishes!
posted by indianbadger1 at 9:39 AM on November 27, 2017

Here's some other good reading on names while/after transitioning:
Tenure, she wrote
Ben Barres in the WaPo
posted by Dashy at 11:39 AM on November 27, 2017

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