MDPI’s new Author Name Change Policy came into effect in February of this year. Under this framework, an author who wishes to change their name after the publication of their work can request to do so, in which case, MDPI will update and republish the relevant articles before resending the updated metadata to the appropriate indexing services. As name changes—for various reasons—can be sensitive in nature, in the interest of protecting our authors, an erratum detailing any name change will not be published, nor will any co-authors be notified.
Previously, the predominance of print records made it incredibly difficult to find every erroneous instance of an author’s previous name and correct it, meaning that the name-changing process was time consuming, difficult, expensive, and ultimately, emotionally draining for the requesting author. However, in the digital domain in which we operate, the process has become much more accessible.
Fundamentally, the dissemination of an incorrect name separates an author from their work, which is why it is necessary to assign rightful importance to ensure that the entire bibliography of an author is attributed to their chosen name.
Disallowing or complicating the process for a trans or nonbinary author to change their name accords with the archaic view that our identities cannot vary or change throughout life and is a form of discrimination, taking away the right of the author to present their identity to the academic community in a way in which they are comfortable.
Our policy follows the recommendations of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), which specifies five guiding principles and best practices:
“Name changes should be available to authors upon request without legal documentation, unnecessary barriers, burdens, or labor placed upon the author making the request.”
Due to the proposed concern about fraudulent activity regarding name changing, name-changing policies in the past have often required unreasonably complicated processes in order to provide proof of identity.
For trans people, changing their name officially can be a lengthy, taxing ordeal, and in some areas of the world is simply not possible. Thus, trans authors and those needing to, for example, evade harassment—online or in-person—should be given the same fair opportunity to express their identities as an author who might wish to change all records of their authorship to their married name or that following a divorce.
“Name changes should remove all instances of an author’s previous name from the records maintained and disseminated by the publisher.”
Publishers should ensure that all open access publications with the original name of the author are corrected and re-published in a discreet manner, namely, metadata, content tables, website links, in-text citations, works citing the requesting author, archival digital documents, and database entries, among others.
COPE describes the “digital ghost” of a previous identity that some authors are faced with following a non-comprehensive name change. Comprehensiveness is perhaps the most challenging aspect to guarantee in the name-changing procedure due to the lack of available systems facilitating these changes.
“Name changes should not draw attention to the gender identity of an author, nor create a clear juxtaposition between the current name and the previous name.”
As a consequence of the still omnipresent discrimination against trans people, they are subjected to various vulnerabilities associated with their identities. The exposure of an author’s previous name by its association with an earlier work can be dangerous for a trans person with regard to the risk of online and in-person abuse and, in certain countries, incarceration and violence.
The name-changing process, therefore, should be implemented in a way that attempts to eradicate this risk by ensuring discretion to ensure the privacy of the author. This is done by eradicating conventional announcements regarding updates or errata within metadata structures and in any modified documents.
COPE highlights the dilemma between the need to protect authors from unwanted exposure and the need to standardise their changed names across all published works; that is, the lack of announcement means that third parties are more unlikely to be aware of this change and thus will be less likely to update their records of the author in question, which reinforces the need for a specific infrastructure to bridge this gap.
Expediency and simplicity
“Name changes should be implemented in a timely manner, and with a minimum of bureaucratic overhead.”
The longer it takes for a publisher to change all records of the requesting author’s name, the more likely it is that the author’s previous name will have time to further accumulate as their work is found and cited in new works, and, in turn, the more potential distress is caused to the author. This is why publishers should act as quickly as possible to correct erroneous citations and instances of the previous name in order to minimise the burden on authors.
This has often been mishandled by publishers previously, which is why COPE draws attention to the need for a specific protocol in the digital publishing industry that makes name changes a standard and highly efficient procedure.
Recurrence and maintenance
“Publishers should regularly audit and correct new instances of changed names in order to prevent ongoing dissemination of incorrect information”
Following a name change, publishers should expect to have missed instances of a previous name that may resurface in the future or mis-cited instances in future works that should be corrected in a timely manner as before. This can be incredibly time consuming, thus reinforcing the need for a more streamlined framework that further facilitates the implementation of this procedure.
The name change policy is a good starting point and a huge leap in accommodating the needs of all authors and their requests for name changes, whether that be due to marriage, divorce, religious conversion, escaping abuse or stigma, etc., transferring the power over to the author with regard to how they choose to present their identity to the digital academic publishing world.
COPE states that “From illuminated manuscripts, to fixed type printing, to moveable type, to word processing, to networked digital distribution, the historical curve of publishing has always evolved away from rigidity and towards flexibility. The next evolution of the published document needs to embrace the dynamics of our technological platforms, while acknowledging the long ignored inequalities in how identities and names are policed by publishers. We contend that individuals—not publishers—should be the sole authority over their social identity, as often manifested by the name that they are known by”.
Just as MDPI’s papers are open access, the overarching aim of policies such as these is to mirror this principle on the author side of publication and, in turn, is a step towards the goal of a publishing environment that is inclusive and accepting of all identities.
MDPI’s Head of Publication Ethics, Damaris Critchlow, stated “Our new author name change policy centres on the needs of people who need to use it. We understand that changing a name can be time-consuming, draining, and complicated, and we’re happy to be able to change our policy to ensure that the process is as simple as possible. We’re proud to support our authors with a streamlined process”
Any authors who wish to change their names on a paper(s) published with MDPI can do so by contacting the relevant journal’s Editorial Office.