More on using forenames in citation

My last post on whether we should use full first names in citations provoked some interesting discussions on twitter. In my own post I took the view that, where possible, I would use full first names in the references. I’ve just submitted an article to a journal which permits both “Canning, John” and “Canning, J.” so it’s not an entirely theoretical discussion. Inspired by Patrick Dunleavy’s (@PJDunleavy) recent blog post I went through my references and added in the first names of the authors I cited.

A dissenting voice about full firstname format came from Anne-Marie Jeannet @amjeannet who suggested that it can lead to gender bias in citation. She linked to an article on how citation practices lead to biases against women.  If I’ve understood her view correctly if we don’t know the gender identity of the people we are citing then citation bias can be prevented. I think it is a nice theory, but we would all need to publish in a gender neutral format as well as cite using just surname and initial. The other problem of course is that I know the gender of most people, even those I have never met, based on the first name.

My former colleague Catherine Baker (@richmondbridge), now in the history department at Hull, is keen on being cited as Catherine Baker rather than C Baker. She points out that that there are a lot of C Bakers in the world. Detractors might argue that there are not many C Bakers teaching history in Hull with research interests in the Balkans. However, location and research interests change so “Catherine Baker” is less likely to be mixed up with anyone else than “C Baker”. According to geneanet  there are 186,826 Bakers on the UK electoral role, 859,017 Smiths, but just 1,622 Cannings. Most of these do not publish in academic journals of course but the need for differentiation is likely to be important for those with more common surnames. This is just the UK of course and publication is an international endeavor.

If mistakes in citation occur first name and surname can help track an individual’s other work. An article by my former colleague Angela Gallagher-Brett (@angegallagher3b) was cited as Brett—the author or proofreader presuming thinking Gallagher was a middle given name and Brett the surname. If I didn’t know Angela Gallagher-Brett I expect I would be more likely to think Angela Brett was also Angela Gallagher-Brett than if all I had was A. Brett. (A recent article by James Hartley examines the issue of citation errors.)

The anglophone world actually has a high number of family names compared to other countries. David Wojick  puts a case for full names based on the Chinese experience where 1.2 billion people share fewer than 8000 family names.  As he notes, differentiating the people based on surnames and initials only would be difficult here, probably impossible.

So, as a consequence of Patrick Dunleavy’s post I opted to put in the full first names of all the authors I cited.

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