Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's An American Name?

In context of news about a state legislator in the U.S. saying "Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are 'easier for Americans to deal with'", I had an online conversation with an American acquaintance about the new names Chinese sometimes choose to use when they come to the U.S. to live, work, or study. I think it could be of interest to readers, so I will share it below.

For reasons of privacy, I have changed two names to Mark and Juan, as well as changed some of names I used as examples.
Mark: I had a student from China that changed his name because he wanted an "American" name. So he called himself Juan. :) I told him that was a nice name but it wasn't an "American" name. We had a good laugh but he kept it.

Me: In the 2000s more babies in the US were named Juan than Charles, Adam, Brian, Steven, Timothy, Richard, or . . . Mark. Seems like the student had it right. :)

Mark: It was still funny and we did have a good laugh. Don't forget, he didn't come from a Hispanic background.

Me: Juan also didn't come from many other backgrounds which have influenced what names are common in the US.

I would agree his name seems atypical for someone coming from China. If I met him, it would catch my attention as well. I suspect the deal here is that for many who come to the US (from wherever) and want a new name, their choice is indirectly or directly impacted by race/ethnicity, not just "Americanness". Your student's choice doesn't fit into how that has often played out, so it stands out to us. I'm curious to know how he chose it.

On the note of unusual name choice... In China, I often meet younger people who, at least in my eyes, have chosen rather creative English names. My favorite is "Spoon".
As always, feel free to share your thoughts.

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