About my name

I was born Carlos Manuel Rinaldi Ramos. Like many Puerto Ricans born in the island, I have a given name, a middle name, and two last names (no hyphen). My middle name, Manuel, was in honor of my grandfather, who emigrated from Cuba to escape Castro’s dictatorship. Rinaldi is my father’s first last name and Ramos is my mother’s. This was my name until I submitted my first paper as graduate student, for which I used Carlos Rinaldi. I intend to change that.

I adopted the name Carlos Rinaldi during my PhD at MIT, around 2001. The environment at MIT was supportive and I had a great Hispanic community to interact with. Still, when writing my first peer reviewed journal paper I convinced myself that using two last names (or hyphenating) would be too confusing to others in the scientific community or unwieldly for search engines. Now I think that deep down I just wanted to fit in. I don’t recall being discriminated against, but I do recall having to explain my name many times in social settings. I recall my full name would not fit in many school and government forms. And most people had a hard time pronouncing my last names (it’s the R’s!). Also, the one Puerto Rican professor at MIT that I knew of only used one last name.

Dropping my middle name and second last name probably seemed convenient as I was trying to fit in in academia. Conveniently, Rinaldi is actually common in the US and is typically associated with Italians (my great great grandfather emigrated from Corsica to Puerto Rico). I recall a building just outside campus that had the name Rinaldi on the façade. I walked past it almost every day. In contrast, I don’t think I ever met someone else with the last name of Ramos. It is recognizably Hispanic (my great great grandfather emigrated from Islas Canarias to Cuba). Whatever the reason, all my papers (except one) and awards (except one) bear the name Carlos Rinaldi since graduate school.

I don’t think I ever gave using Carlos Rinaldi as my name a second thought until our children were born. I am married to a wonderful strong Puerto Rican, Sindia M. Rivera-Jimenez. She has been loving and supportive of me and my career since the start of our relationship in Puerto Rico. But she has also taught me much about empathy and social justice. She is the one who first made me really question why I did not use my mother’s last name. This was probably when she was writing her first peer reviewed journal paper. I recall her asking about my name and responding with my excuse regarding search engines. She now has a PhD and she decided to use both last names (hyphenated) in her papers. To her it was unthinkable to not use her mother’s last name. Her mother who raised her and supported her through all her struggles. Her mother who provided encouragement and love at all times. Her mother who became a single parent after a divorce.

I have a mother too. A mother who raised me and supported me through all my struggles. A mother who has provided encouragement and love at all times. A mother who became my single parent after a divorce. A mother who never questioned why her son did not use her last name. I started to question my choice, but what could I do? I was still trying to survive, to fit in in academia. And how could I change my name? The only people I knew of then who changed the names in their papers were women who married and/or divorced. That was not me. I let it pass and continued to focus on my career and fitting in.

Sindia and I now have two children and they bear both our first last names. We moved to Florida some time ago and I witnessed how important it was for her that they always use her last name. She does not want to be forgotten. They both use both last names and I am proud of them for it. I continued to regret my choice but continued to try to survive and fit in in academia. The breakneck pace of academia “helps” because faculty often don’t have time to reflect on such things (there is sarcasm and disapproval in this statement). The pandemic, for all the horror it has inflicted on society, it did bring a reprieve from constant travel and I found myself thinking about my choice of name often.

Last summer a former student who is Hispanic and pursuing a PhD reached out to Sindia and me for advice on what name to use in her first paper. Sindia and I explained our choices over zoom. Sindia’s arguments were better than mine and it was clear I needed to make a change. I first spoke openly about Hispanic names, my choices, and regrets at two invited (virtual!) seminars in Fall 2020. Some attendees thanked me for being candid about the topic, as they were facing similar choices.

Around this time professional societies like ACS started adopting policies to facilitate name changes for authors, thanks to tremendous effort and leadership by the trans community. And so, after roughly 23 years in academia as Carlos Rinaldi, from now on I wish to be known as Carlos M. Rinaldi-Ramos (the hyphen is still a compromise, but I am fine with it). I am grateful first to my mother, for always loving me even when I failed to acknowledge her with my choice of name. I am also grateful to Sindia, for questioning my choices (this and many others!) with love and support. I am grateful to the women and trans scientists who have struggled with names in academia and have fought for change and acceptance. And I am grateful to the increasing number of Hispanic scientists in the US who use both last names.

This is not meant as a criticism to other Hispanics in academia who choose to use one last name. I believe choice of names should be personal. While many are happy with the names they are given, others are not for many reasons. This was merely a personal account of my experiences and choices in the matter, given freely in the hope it will educate some and support others making similar choices.