I am writing a paper where I will cite several works by the Hungarian mathematician Gábor Szegő. Note that his surname includes the letter o with a double acute accent, NOT a letter o with umlaut ö. In his first paper (that I know of) he spells his own name this way, and biographies of him always use this spelling.

However, in later works (such as a major book that he published) he usually uses an umlaut for his name instead. I am not sure whether this is because of technical limitations on what accents could be typeset at the time or because he moved out of Hungary (which did happen) and was trying to spell his name in a more appropriate way. Additionally, a theorem has been named after him (which is a great honour for a mathematician), but it is usually spelt as the Szegö limit theorem with an umlaut.

Should I follow convention with the theorem name or try to correct it by using the original spelling of his surname? And how should I cite his work? To clarify, I am of course asking whether there is an accepted convention on such things, rather than looking for opinions on what people would prefer that I do. Unfortunately I plan to cite both his original paper and later book, so if I cite his name in the way it's spelt in the work then I'll have Szegő and Szegö right next to each other in my bibliography! And if I use author-year citations then I'll have them right next to each other in my text (see Szegő, 1915; Szegö, 1952)!

(Thanks in advance for any help. Apologies if this is not the right place for this question. It applies equally in any language, but this seems the most appropriate StackExchange board.)

Edit: I should point out that the 1915 article isn't written in English (nor Hungarian: it's in German). It seems that all of Szegö's work in English used the umlaut, so perhaps he considered it to be the correct way of writing his name in English. Just as we have Pythagoras's theorem rather than Πυθαγόρας's theorem and Sobolev inequalities rather than Со́болев inequalities, perhaps Szegö is always (and only) correct in English.

  • I would say that your last suggestion is exactly what you must do. One of my professors writes both under her maiden name and her married name indiscriminately, and you often end up having to quote her as (Olsen 1999; Rasmussen 1999) instead of (Olsen 1999a and 1999b), for example. It seems even more silly in your example where the difference is only in the accent, but I would say that’s how it must be. I’m not aware of any actual conventions for this, though, which is why I’m posting this as a comment, not an answer. Also: what field are you writing in? Mathematics? Jan 19, 2014 at 17:23
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    There have been several Russian mathematicians whose names have been transliterated several ways. Tchebysheff/Chebyshev is one that comes to mind. I don't know what the standard practice if you have to cite two of his papers where his name was spelled differently, but it makes more difference than Szegö/Szegő, which are adjacent to each other alphabetically, and for which non-Hungarians are unlikely to notice any difference. I'd be tempted to list all citations under Chebyshev, with a note (originally Tchebysheff) in parenthesis for the ones originally published under that name. Jan 19, 2014 at 19:10
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    @Cerberus I differ ; it seems to me that inline or footnote citations should be as brief as possible and, as MLA suggests, should employ one consistent spelling (Szegö 1999a and 1999b), and that the variant spellings should be explictly noted only in the Works Cited--which any reader who wants to consult the source will have to turn to anyway. Jan 20, 2014 at 20:11
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    I would refer to the theorem as Szegö, but the person as Szegő, with appropriate explanations in your bibliography for those sources which used the short umlaut instead of the long one. As for why Prof. Szegő started writing his name wrong, it's almost certainly a character set limitation - it was just easier to use a character which his German audience was familiar with. (It's just a minor pronunciation difference in this case - it's not like, say föl "up" vs. fől "it's cooking".)
    – Marthaª
    Jan 20, 2014 at 22:34
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    @JimOldfield: I grew up in an active Hungarian immigrant community in southern California. I'm 99.9% certain the ö vs. ő choice was because of character set limitations. You can finagle a typewriter to produce something resembling an ő (type an o, backspace, type a double quote), but 1. it gets tedious, and 2. Americans are unable to wrap their heads around it, so your lovingly-typed journal article might end up credited to someone named Szegd or Szeg8. And then come ASCII-based computers, and you're pretty much screwed.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 20, 2014 at 23:20

1 Answer 1


The decision will in the end rest with your publisher, so I suggest you address the question to your editors—that’s what they’re paid for, and they will probably appreciate your calling their attention to the problem. In fact, the standard authority in my own field, MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, although it does not directly address this question, does say of spelling variants in general that you should “inform your editor, before copyediting begins, of any necessary deviations” from the practices MLA otherwise recommends. (3.4.1)

MLA also says “If the name of an author whose works you used appears in various spellings in the works (e.g., Virgil, Vergil), consolidate all the entries for the sources under the preferred variant in your works-cited list (6.4.3),” and it specifically distinguishes this from the need to list separately works written under natal and married names.

My reading of these suggests that you employ the version with the ‘long’ umlaut throughout, with a note at each relevant works-cited entry of the variant spelling under which it was published.

And Oh, yeah: in the works-cited list (but not the body of your text) Prof. Szegő should appear as Szegő Gábor, with no comma: Hungarian, like many East Asian languages, puts the surname first.

  • Thanks StoneyB. Although it's a pity that there's not an unambiguous answer, it's also a reality. And you're right that, in my specific situation, the final decision is best made by my publisher. In the initial draft I think I will go for Anglicised version of his name (Szegö) in all cases, probably without comment, just as I do for Russian mathematicians that I cite. But I will definitely check with the editors. Jan 20, 2014 at 21:37
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    I agree it depends on your publisher. Some publishers want you to go with the name as it appears in the particular article in the particular journal, or as per how the names appear in a particular database. They, or a particular style guide, may even require that all names are first name first, regardless of country of origin. FYI, have you seen the Academia stackexchange? There are often questions there about citations and referencing. academia.stackexchange.com
    – nxx
    Jan 20, 2014 at 22:50

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