Why NBER wants to know your name
The NBER database has (as of 2016) about 60,000 people in it. Most just want to get some email notifications about new working papers. But some are academic economists who are authors of working papers, or who have attended NBER conferences.
Today, you are probably just signing up for some email notifications. But someday there is a chance that you will become an academic economist and author a working paper or come to a conference. When you do, it is critical that we have your name right. Furthermore, it is critical that we know that you are not the same person as someone else with a similar name in our database.
So it is really helpful for us to have reasonably accurate full names in our database for everyone, even folks whose contact with NBER is casual. If you really don't want to give your name, you can put in a fake name - we have no way to detect or prevent that. It would help us if you make it obvious, like "Someone Q Anonymous"
You may have heard of mathematicians and their Erdös number. Briefly, if you are an academic mathematician, your Erdös number is the number of hops of co-authorship on academic papers that it takes to get to Paul Erdös, a very prolific famous Hungarian mathematician (1913-1996). Mathematicians have great fun playing with graphs and theories about this, but they suffer from problems with their data - they are relying purely on names of authors. If a mathematician writes one paper as John Kennedy and another as John F Kennedy, how do you know if they are the same or different? For that matter, if there is more than one mathematician called John Kennedy, how do you know which one it is? There is a hint of desperation in this quote from the Erdös Number Project web site:
As a corollary to our work, we issue a plea to authors: please use as complete and consistent a name as possible when you publish a paper. Too many people have too many similar names and initials, and confusion reigns!
Our modest goal at NBER is to have a fairly broad database of people involved in the economics profession, at least for applied economics and at least for the U.S. There are many reasons why someone might not be in our database at all, but if they are, we hope to have a high degree of confidence that we can correctly distinguish them from others with similar names. For example, there are 3 currently active economists named Michael Moore, two of which have the same middle initial, and none of which are the more generally famous documentary film-maker.
Thank you for your help keeping our database accurate.