Social Question

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Why do Asian people immigrating to western nations often take on western names?

Asked by Captain_Fantasy (11431points) March 26th, 2010

Like when someone named Zhixun takes on the name Rachel.

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37 Answers

xRIPxTHEREVx's avatar

Because they get mad when noone can pronounce their names.

Snarp's avatar

Because Westerners find it difficult to pronounce and remember Asian names, which can be frustrating. Often they are changing the way it is used anyway, since in China, for example, the family name comes first, then the given name, and often they are almost always used together. When your name is going to sound different anyway, sometimes it might just be easier to change it altogether. Anyway, that’s from a Westerner, so take it for what it’s worth.

lilikoi's avatar

The same reason why African people from Africa will give you an English name when you ask what their name is.

Or why Germans that visit the U.S. adopt an English name.

It is not unique to Asians.

DominicX's avatar

I’m guessing ease of pronunciation is one of them, but also so people won’t seem them as a “foreigner”. My mom’s family changed their last name from “Averyanov” to “Avery”, so they would sound “less Russian”. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think I would’ve done that if I were in that position.

Mulot's avatar

For Chinese persons immigrating in westerns country, it’s quite simple. When they learn English during their childhood or high school, they have to choose an American name, or “western” like, so most of the Chinese will introduce themselves to you with their foreign names.

It’s also of course for pronunciation problems.

Snarp's avatar

I’ve seen a lot of Chinese people who will use an English name that sound close to their Chinese name, so it really isn’t much different from the way it would be pronounced anyway. So He Jie becomes Angela instead of whatever American butchering of Jie He. Zhu Li becomes Julie, etc. Then again I do have a friend who took an English name that has nothing to do with his Chinese name. I’ve no idea why.

Fyrius's avatar

I think it’s kind of charming.

boxing's avatar

The ease of pronunciation and to be remembered are the most important reasons. A sense of feeling blend-in also plays a part.

jlm11f's avatar

As others said, it’s simply for pronunciation reasons. I, however, am stubborn enough to not embrace that philosophy and decided early on that if people can’t say my name then they shouldn’t be talking to me. I also think it’s an insult to the Americans whether they see it that way or not that people think they won’t be able to pronounce their name. It is true that many have trouble doing so, but if anyone bothered trying a bit, they can get the hang of most names.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Sometimes it’s because the immigration authority changed it around to put on your passport. Both my first and last names got changed a bit because there was no way to spell my first name and well, for my last name, they just screwed up and put a ‘ch’ instead of an ‘sh’ in one place.

WestRiverrat's avatar

It isn’t just Asians. The Lakota I work with will use different names when associating with other Native Americans than they do when dealing with non Native Americans.

Blonderaven's avatar

Hasn’t anyone here, when learning a different language, gotten a name in that language? On a side note I had a friend adopted from China and they gave her an American name at the orphanage. It was Wallace. Her parents put it as her middle name, after her Chineese name. She still wont willingly tell you what the W stands for

lilikoi's avatar

I wanted to add, that yes, as others have said, sometimes it is because their names are hard for Western people to pronounce. As well as people’s tendency to fear what is not familiar. Both of these reasons are why the people I’ve met who have done this did it.

If you go back in history, Asians immigrating from various countries to Hawaii to work the plantation fields would name their children with English names because white people were the dominant race and the other races were considered “second class”. Also, after WWII (think: Japanese internment camps), English names helped cement the place of innocent children of immigrants within Western culture. It is very common amongst Asian children born into Western culture to have an English first name and an ethnic middle name(s).

Snarp's avatar

@PnL I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s insulting to the Westerner, but it does kind of bother me. I want to use the name they feel most comfortable with, I also want to learn and expand my horizons and that includes learning to pronounce someone’s name. So if they’re not truly comfortable with the Western name, or don’t use it with others of their nationality, then I would rather be using their proper name. If they’re just more comfortable using the Western name, that’s fine, but either way I find myself in an awkward position.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of Japanese men I’ve met named “Kevin”.

noyesa's avatar

Sometimes it’s kind of funny when I meet someone and they tell me “Hello, my name is Naeem, but you can call me Jim.” I think it’s because nobody will pronounce their name correctly, much less ever remember it.

In some cases we actually lack the proper vocal capabilities to pronounce some Asian names. I have a Vietnamese friend who’s last name is Nguyen. The most common english pronunciation is “win”, but from what I understand, because of the lack of sounds in our vocabulary that Vietnamese people have, I will likely never be able to correctly say it.

Idknown's avatar

I got my English name first. Joe. Just Joe. Either my mom really wanted me to be an American, or she just wasn’t that creative…

No… my Chinese name sounds nothing like Joe…

j0ey's avatar

@Idknown hahahahahahaha

cbloom8's avatar

Anonymity and ease.

Chongalicious's avatar

Assimilation; easier to pronouce for us lazy Americans ;)

thriftymaid's avatar

It’s not just Asians. I think a lot of immigrants Americanize their name to help with assimilation.

galileogirl's avatar

I’ve actually talked to Asian students about how they got their English names and quite a few picked them in second grade. Many pick names that sound like their Chinese names. It seems the most common name is Jenny. I’ve always got at least 2 Jenny Li/Le/Lees

Chongalicious's avatar

@galileogirl I’ve also seen plenty of Jenny’s. Other common ones are Jimmy and Julie (for Vietnamese people) seems they like the letter J!

filmfann's avatar

As a child, I remember an asian couple who went to our church. His name sounded like Sick Sue. I have no idea what the actual spelling of that was.
I remember people laughing in my church at his name. They thought it was so funny.
I am sure it hurt his feelings.

galileogirl's avatar

Jia & Jian are pretty common as part of Asian given names like Jian Qing or Jia Hong. Also every time I see Benson, I know he will be Chinese

mattbrowne's avatar

Dealing with anti-Asian sentiments is a reason as well, like the anti-German sentiments which existed in the past. At the time some Germans were lucky. They simply changed the pronunciation using creative hyphenation. So Rothschild turned into Roths – Child for example. Sounds pretty English. But the name has nothing to do with a child of Mr. & Mrs. Roths. The name in fact means “red shield” for Roth – Schild before the spelling reform in 1901 (today the color red is spelled ‘rot’).

JeffVader's avatar

Because we’re too ignorant to take the time to learn their correct names & pronunciations.

galileogirl's avatar

@JeffVader Obviously you have never been a teacher in a school where 80% of your 150+ students have ethnic names. When you take roll the first week, you ask them to let you what they want to be called. Usually they have English names they want to be called or we put their names down phonetically. Those Eritrean and Cambodian names can be real tongue-twisters

jlm11f's avatar

@galileogirl Surely you aren’t claiming that teachers represent the whole nation?

galileogirl's avatar

@PnL Just pointing out there may be other reasons besides ignorance for not learning difficult names (per @JeffVader ). BTW How would you pronounce Ngonma? Wrong. the second N is silent.

monocle's avatar

Sometimes their names aren’t easy to translate (or pronounce in English)
A have a friend who changed her name from Si Ling to Selene.

jlm11f's avatar

@galileogirl I wouldn’t attempt to pronounce it before asking. I would read the name, ask the person how it is pronounced and then keep repeating till I got it down pat.

JeffVader's avatar

@galileogirl Thanks for confirming my pronunciation was correct… No, you’re right I haven’t taught at a school with an 80% ethnic mix…. However, I did go to an international school of over 10,000 pupils of which only about 20% were English. I agree, some names from around the world can be tongue twisters, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get it right tho, most people appreciate the effort.

galileogirl's avatar

@JeffVader And I think we should go by the wishes of the person whose name it is.

JeffVader's avatar

@galileogirl Assuming that is their wish, & not simply them trying to be nice by giving us westerners easy names to pronounce, I couldn’t agree more.

submariner's avatar

For some Asian students, taking on an English name seems to be a little bit like taking on a screen name is for Americans—it’s a chance to play with their identity.

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