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Untangling Authors’ Names

By: , Posted on: March 12, 2015

If you are like me, whose name has been transliterated from a non-Latin alphabet, you may see your name taking many different incarnations, no matter how it appeared in the original publication.  Transliteration of names from Asian languages is even more problematic than the transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet. As the number of publications and patents from Asia is rapidly growing, inconsistent transliteration of authors’ names from these countries is becoming a major problem.

Variations in authors’ names could be due to different reasons. Sometimes the authors themselves have not used the same form of their names. For example, they could have their names presented with (1) full first name, (2) first initial, (3) full first name plus middle initial or (4) first and middle initials.

Authors, though, do not have much control over how translators, indexers, and secondary publishers would treat their names. The differences between the practices of secondary publishers are well illustrated by SciFinder, which searches simultaneously two different databases — the Chemical Abstracts Database (CAPlus) and MEDLINE. While CAPlus (produced by the Chemical Abstracts Service) preserves the author’s full first name, MEDLINE (the database behind PubMed, produced by the National Library of Medicine) automatically abbreviates the first name to an initial. The overlap in coverage of the same journals by both databases creates duplicates of articles in the search results (there is a feature, though, that allows removing such duplicates).  Since SciFinder allows searching for alternate spellings of authors’ names, it is possible to get two versions of the same article in the search results, the only difference between them being the way the author’s name is presented.

When I did an author search on my name, SciFinder came up with 8 versions of it (Figure 1). Some of these variations were due to the full first name/initial practices of the different publishers. While it was not difficult for me to see that all these eight versions are variations of my name, it would not be possible for anyone else to know it.

Figure 1. Screen capture from SciFinder showing eight variations of this author’s name. SciFinder allows searching for variations in author’s name. Reproduced with permission from the Chemical Abstracts Service, Division of the American Chemical Society.

Many years ago I found out that a highly respected secondary publisher had adopted the first transliteration of my name and used it for all my subsequent papers, no matter how my name had appeared in the original publication. Even articles that I had published in English language journals were changed to this first transliteration of my name.

I called this company and questioned this change of my name.  I was told that they had been using ‘authority control’ that matched an author’s name to the institution he or she had been affiliated with. But what if there are two or more people with the same last name and first name and even middle initial working in the same organization?

managing scientific dataTwo things really struck me during this conversation:  (1) the person on the phone asked me how I wanted my name to be presented in their database. So it turned out that I could choose a name under which my papers will be presented – no matter how they had appeared in the original publication; (2) I was not even asked to prove that I was the actual author of the papers in question.

In my book, Managing Scientific Information and Research Data, I discuss how secondary publishers are handling author name problems and how the new persistent author identifiers ORCID, ResearlcherID, and ISNI could help resolving the ambiguity of author’s identity.

This book is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store using discount code “STC215” at checkout and save 30% on your very own copy!

About the Author

Svelta baykouchevaSvetla Baykoucheva (Baykousheva) is the head of the White Memorial Chemistry Library at the University of Maryland College Park. For more than 20 years she has performed interdisciplinary research in infectious microbiology and biochemistry, and has published more than 40 articles in peer-review scientific journals such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochemistry, Journal of Chromatography, and FEBS Letters. She was also the editor of the Chemical Information Bulletin (published by the ACS Chemical Information Division) and manager of the Library and Information Center of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Washington, D.C. In 2005 she moved back to academia to become head of the White Memorial Chemistry Library at the University of Maryland College Park, where she teaches scientific information and bibliographic management.

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