What’s in a name? Beginning January 2013, the American Medical Association is changing the name of nine of its research journals, replacing the prefix “Archives of” with “JAMA.” Archives of Internal Medicine will soon become JAMA Internal Medicine, for example.

According to the editorial, the changes coincide with a print and online redesign and integration into a more cohesive JAMA Network. Information and commentaries about articles published in one journal may be featured across other journals in the network. Manuscripts rejected by one journal can be transferred internally to another journal in the network. The changes in journal name reflect the idea that the AMA publishes more than just a collection of independently related titles.

Image via Gunnar Ries.

Name changes have consequences. In the short term, a name changes artificially depresses the journal’s impact factor as citations in the next two years are split between the old and new title names. Citing authors are also prone to making mistakes, attributing new articles to the old name or vise versa. As some authors are prone to reuse the erroneous citations of others, errors can persist years after a name change has been made.

A study of journal title changes in 1994 and 1995 illustrated that name changes can depress a journal’s impact factor beyond the two-year transition period. On average, it took three years for journals to recover to their old-title impact factors. So why fix what isn’t broken?

It’s important to distinguish the rationale behind a title change. The vast majority of title changes take place because the scope of the journal no longer represents the articles it publishes. Some fields grow, others decay; a few exceptional topical articles published in your general biology journal this year may result in a flood of similar topical manuscripts next year. It’s not always possible to predict where your journal is moving until you’ve made a significant shift. This is not the reason for the new JAMA titles.

The changes in JAMA titles are an effort to unite a collection of journals under a common brand, and an attempt to convey an interconnectiveness between the titles, explained Howard Bauchner, Editor in Chief of JAMA, by phone. The JAMA Network brand even extends his email address, which ends with jamanetwork.org. Asked about the implications of rebranding the Archives journals, he responded that many readers may not have realized that the Archives journals were published by the AMA, and that the word “archives” is a pejorative term to some, signaling that the journals didn’t publish important and current research. Bauchner understands that the title changes will depress the impact factor of the entire network of journals for two years, but believes that they will be in a stronger position in the near future.

Publisher branding is not new to STM publishing. Nature began doing this with its sister and review titles beginning in the mid 1990s. Cell Press followed a similar strategy by starting a suite of sister-branded journals. IEEE is known for its engineering journals, and BMC with its open access journals. The American Physical Society’s approach is somewhat different, branding a suite of journals under Physical Review and naming its new open access journal Physical Review X, as opposed to APS-Open.

Brands can also be a liability, and there is an argument to be made for not extending a brand too far, explained John Hawley, Executive Director of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Nature was careful not to associate its new open access journal, Scientific Reports, with the Nature name. Cell Press still persists as an independent brand in spite of the fact that it is owned by Elsevier. And scientists are now more likely to associate the PLoS brand more with a huge, high-acceptance rate journal than with the selective high-profile journals it began publishing. “Brands are powerful [signals], but they can also be overextended,” said Hawley.

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Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is a publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist. https://phil-davis.com/


11 Thoughts on "What’s In a (Journal) Name?"

Title name changes should NOT be done casually. I can remember a number of years back there was a newsletter title that we subscribed to when I worked at the Morgantown Energy Technology Center (now the National Energy Technology Center). For a fair number of years it was “Fluidized Bed Review.” Then for a year it was “International Fluidized Bed Review” and then the very next year was yet a new name “Seminal Fluidized Bed Review.” Well, with each title change, especially since it was a small publisher, I had to make sure that our subscription agent was aware of the change (they simply didn’t follow small publishers closely). If I didn’t, it would simply be listed as an unobtainable title (they had bigger fish to fry and our business – small government research library – just wasn’t that important). After the second name change I got a call from the editor thanking me for continuing to subscribe – he didn’t understand why his subscribers had dropped like a rock. I explained to him what I had to do just to stay subscribed. An expensive lesson was learned. Now, the AMA is one of those ‘too important to fail’ publishers, so they don’t have too much to worry about. They should keep in mind that they ARE causing some annoying title changes for libraries though – it makes it harder on their readership. Their readership doesn’t give a wit what they call their journal, they just want the content.

This is a good point usually overlooked by market-obsessed publishers. I’d like to add that more than just subscriptions can get messed up. Libraries must spend significant time updating their catalogs and link resolver databases so that access to the new titles (and old) are not interrupted. These aren’t trivial tasks, and require relatively high-level staff to work on. And it all begins with notification, which is often lacking until a patron points it out or complains.

Indexing services also have to make changes. And of course reader confusion about such changes persists for years. Gratuitous title changes should be avoided as much as possible, but this is a message few publishers hear.

One of the more puzzling journal title changes occurred when the University of Toronto Press decided to rename Scholarly Publishing as The Journal of Scholarly Publishing. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what advantage the Press thought the new name would have over the old. Can you?

Clarity, perhaps? Seen without the context of a full citation, Scholarly Publishing could be a book title. Heard and not seen, it could be a general topic. Greater clarity or no, title changes are a pain for those chasing down articles. Readers of the journal of the American Health Information Association might remember a string of identity crises in the 1980s. (Note “journal” is lower case here.)

I think that’s exactly right. A title change like that provides context. Imagine coming across ‘Scholarly Publishing’ as a search result on Google – it’s not evident that this is a journal without the prefix.

Phil, thanks for this article. U.S. trademark law is a species of consumer protection law. A trademark or service mark is intended to indicate the source of goods or services that a potential consumer contemplates purchasing. In addition to being source identifiers, they are symbols of the goodwill associated with the goods/services. This is true for consumer products. It is equally true for scholarly journals. Medical journals frequently bear titles that are merely descriptie of content. This is true of the AMA’s Archives of Dermatology, Archives of Internal Medicine, etd. As such they are initially weak source indicators. Over years of publication they may acquire distinctiveness. But “Archives of,” though a unifying element, is not necessarily a distinguishing feature that identifies the AMA as the publisher. Titles/trademarks that include JAMA, however, are instantaneously recognizable as source indicators and also convey certain licensing and enforcement benefits. While it appears that the AMA has not applied to register its “Archives of” titles, it may now succeed in registering its new titles on the principal register of the USPTO (albeit with disclaimers of any descriptive terms). Mitch

Food for thought: If citation calculations can be preserved when a journal moves from one publisher to another (and resulting in a change in its ISSN number), why can’t they be preserved for title changes? Isn’t the journal still the same object? Volume and page numbers do not need to be restarted (reset to Vol 1, n1 p1-), so I don’t understand why citation counts need to be restarted?

Yeah, I’ve never quite understood this. From what I’m told, if the name change is insignificant enough that it doesn’t require ISI to change the abbreviation it uses for the journal, then the citation count continues on as before. But if the abbreviation is no longer valid, then you essentially start over as far as your Impact Factor. Could this be a technological artifact of their database system?

If my knowledge is still correct, then they conduct a title match from the first 20 characters in the title name. When the Journal of American Society for Information Science changed to Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology no adjustment was necessary since the addition took place past the 20-character limit.

I think the issue is both a brand and scope issue, not just a technical/object issue. A name change signifies some shift, and ISI can’t spend its time differentiating between shifts for brand stategies vs. those for scope changes or to support other launches or to deal with improving a poor name. It’s safest and most data-driven to say that his important step be measured from zero, rather than carrying over brand and scope assumptions and beliefs. There’s probably also a desire to make publishers and editors think twice — it’s a big step, and shouldn’t be done whimsically.

Each of you has part of the idea – but perhaps I can get this all into alignment. Kent – you have the reasoning entirely correct. For JCR, we deal with a journal as a cited entity. If the title is changed, it is a different cited entity and we try to create a new record. (Note: the cited entity is not changed by altering the publisher, or ISSN, or Editor in Chief, so in those situations, we have no need to break the citation record into two parts.)

There are circumstances where it is not possible to resolve the before/after effectively. We use a 20-character unique title abbreviation for every record – and we have many mechanisms in place to drive longer variants down to that resolution – but there remain some title changes that result in unresolveable ambiguity between the former and current titles. The simplest version of that situation is when the new title adds a word or two at the end of a very long title. In that case, it is possible that our 20 character abbreviation will not be able to accommodate a representation of the last word. There are some Procrustean solutions we can apply – but these inevitably decrease the citation count for the journal in the JCR. We try to use the option that will allow us to best represent the citation impact of the title – and each decision is entirely data-driven, based on the advantages and the limitations of our production systems and any observed citation output. Some description of the process and considerations is in a 2010 item I and a colleague here submitted to LEARNED PUBLISHING: http://goo.gl/Vn22B

My favorite example of a title change that was just a problem for everyone: some time ago, ACTA ORTHOPEDICA SCANDINAVICA (20 character abbrev: ACTA ORTHOP SCAND) changed title to ACTA ORTHOPEDICA (20 character abbrev: ACTA ORTHOP), then a few years later, changed back to ACTA ORTHOPEDICA SCANDINAVICA (20 character abbrev…same as before). When we reviewed the citation pattern at the end of the year, we saw all the signs of real confusion in the citing authors, with citations to the SCAND title occurring even in the years it was no longer the active title of the journal. When we were creating the JCR record for the SECOND title change, we coded things to allow citations to either version to collect to the current title. The title has been stable and the same now for several years.

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