Invisible name changes

· March 31, 2021

For today’s transgender day of visibility I would like to talk about the importance of invisibility. Or rather, the importance of being able to choose when and how to make oneself visible as trans, and to whom. For many trans scholars, the freedom to make this choice hinges on the ability to invisibly change their name on publications that were published under their previous name. It’s either that, or write those publications off completely, losing the citations and impact scores along with them.

Tanenbaum et al (2021) recently published a guest article for COPE, the Committee On Publication Ethics, about how, for scholarly publishing to be inclusive of trans scholars, it is important for there to be policies and procedures in place that can accomodate name changes. The third of the high level principles they offer is invisibility:

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.

Transgender people face significant discrimination, bias, and precarity as a consequence of their gender identity. Published works associated with a trans person’s previous name represent a direct threat to the safety and wellbeing of trans people, potentially exposing them to harm, including online harassment, employment discrimination, in-person assault, and even state sanctioned incarceration and violence in some regions. In the best of circumstances, such disclosures rob the transgender person of their right to privacy and the right to decide the time and place to “come out” to strangers in their professional life. Any publisher who implements a process for trans authors to change their name should work to minimize the disclosure risk to the requesting scholar. This includes foregoing traditional announcements and notices typically associated with updates, corrections, retractions, and errata, both in metadata structures and on changed documents.

We recognize the tension between the need to protect the privacy of authors who have changed their name and the desire to prevent recurrence and dissemination of their previous (obsolete) name. Without an announcement or notice of correction, the chances of third parties updating the name in their records drops substantially. This is a place where new infrastructures are needed, as current publishing and dissemination systems are not designed to push discrete updates of names to third parties.

Gaskins and McClain (2021) also emphasise the importance of invisible name changes for promoting equity in scholarly publishing, and suggest some of the new infrastructure that would be required to implement this:

We advocate for a systematic process for invisible name changes. While we appreciate the concept of the “permanence of the scholarly record,” in order to create an ethical publishing space that is safe for all individuals, academic journals should not act as gatekeepers for a transgender person’s ability to protect and control their own information and narrative (in addition to the safety issues associated with this information). Allowing non-visible name change policies returns that control to the individual. Additionally, it can lessen the potential for discrimination against transgender individuals and promote the equality and advancement of transgender researchers across academia.

Their suggestion is that a permanent research identifier system such as ORCID could be the key to implementing global invisible name changes across multiple scholarly publishing platforms. This will likely come as no surprise to information professionals who hopefully appreciate the many benefits of permanent identifiers and are already ORCID advocates.

This is an issue that affects all aspects of scholarly publishing, including LIS journals, scholarly presses, and institutional repositories. So, if your work touches on one of these areas, do you have a policy and procedures for implementing name changes for your journal, press, or repository? If not, what steps can you take to start working towards developing one? If you don’t know where to start, email me, and I can put you in touch with trans LIS professionals who have expertise in this area. This transgender day of visibility, take action to give the agency to choose whether or not they become visible as trans back to trans scholars.


Gaskins, L. C. & McClain, C. R. (2021, March 9) Visible name changes promote inequity for transgender researchers. PLOS Biology 19(3).

Tanenbaum, T. J., Rettig, I., Schwartz, H. M., Watson, B. M., Goetz, T. G., Spiel, K., & Hill, M. (2021, January 13). A vision for a more trans-inclusive publishing world: guest article. COPE: Committee On Publication Ethics.