How do you pick your Anglo name?
June 3, 2011 12:21 AM   Subscribe

I live in Australia, and have noticed lot of the students I study with who are from somewhere in East Asia will adopt a Western name while they're over here, presumably to make things easier for thick-tongued Anglos. I'm curious about how these names are selected.

Typically they're not the names of current celebrities, but often have a slightly antique quality. Is there a Big Book of Anglo Names published, and people just pick one that sounds euphonious? Were I to pick say, a Chinese name to go by, I'd choose something that sounded similar to my Anglo name, but this appears not to be a pattern much followed. Can anyone shed light on the matter?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot to Society & Culture (50 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I met a Chinese guy in my residence whose Western name was Garfield. I asked him how he chose that rather unusual name and he told me "from the comic with the cat!". So there you go, I guess.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:28 AM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

In Korea, an enormous number of schoolchildren attend hagwons (cram schools) to study English, and if they don't already have an English name, very often their teacher will suggest one to them. This can be tons of fun for the slightly mischievous native-speaker English teacher (like I was), who doled out names like Quentin, Beavis, Carl, and Winston. Sometime kids will come with names that their parents have suggested and that bear some relation to their given name. For instance, a girl named Jin-hee might be Jenny, a boy named Jae-young might be Jay, etc.

One of my most memorable moments in doling out names was the following exchange:

Me: "Do you have an English name?"
Boy: "Yes. Licky. L-I-C-K-Y."
Me (bearing in mind the difficulty many Koreans have with the R/L distinction): "Don't you mean 'Ricky', with an 'R'?"
Boy: "No, Licky. L-I-C-K-Y."
Me (After a long pause): "Licky it is! Nice to meet you, Licky."

Other kids would just be kids and insist on their own names, everything else be damned. Hence my also having students named Dragon and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
posted by holterbarbour at 12:42 AM on June 3, 2011 [44 favorites]

Yep, there's no real protocol to be observed here. A few examples I've heard of:
  • Tessa, picked at university in reference to "__ of the D'Urbervilles"
  • Daisy, picked in kindergarten apparently by pointing at a poster, later changed to Margaret in high school
  • Chris, picked at university after vacillating back and forth at least since middle school
  • Cherry, picked in English class because it was apparently the local fashion to pick fruits and vegetables (?!)
The story goes that my own name was picked by opening a book of baby names to the first letter of my Chinese name, and then just pointing randomly at the page.

Another common pattern is for people to start mispronouncing their own names to mimic English phonology. So I know a girl who rhymes the first syllable of her name with "pay," even though in Chinese it should rhyme with "pie", and another who moved the stress from the second to the first syllable because that's apparently what English speakers expect.

In my family, the men go by their surnames, and I suspect that started when we came to America and realized nobody could pronounce our given names.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:58 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

It may not even be consistent within the same family. My parents specifically gave me an English name that sounded similar to my Chinese name, my sister had her English name picked out by one of her English teachers in middle school and stuck with it.
posted by C^3 at 1:08 AM on June 3, 2011

I went thru the similar process as holterbarbour described, aiming for a phonetically-similar Western name. However, by the time of naturalization come around (which is several years later), I've met enough weird sounding names from Eastern Europe and Africa that I decided not to adopt a new name. Afterall, if I have to remember how to spell Schrodinger, it's only fair that others learn my name... which is a lot less complicated.

A friendly thing I always do is asking my new friend his/her name in the native language and what it means. Popular western names mostly have biblical roots; where as in Eastern Asian tradition, names typically are combination of words which are poetic and inspirational. In the olden days, fathers would name their children after a long famous poem and/or inspirational quotation; so the names of siblings would carry the family aspirations or motto. This is back when the average family size is quite large. Girls name are also quite beautiful and sweet sounding. If your friends came from a middle-class, professional background; I'm sure their parents put a lot of thoughts into naming their child; and I find knowing their real name and the meaning is a good start to know the person. Besides, it's hard to forget their name after all that background.
posted by curiousZ at 1:17 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've read a lot about weird Chinese Western names on various blogs. A partial list of actual names that people have chosen:

Fantasy, No-No, Snoopy, Icy Cat, Sniper, Dangerous, Asks, Do Do, Lonely Cottage, Willing, Leg, Eurydice, Qhair, Celery, Lettuce, Captain, Kangta, God, James Bond, Shiftenrainy, Cappuccino, Bin Laden, Tinkerbell, Crloline ("Informing her that I as a native speaker cannot even pronounce this word did not faze her"), Rain Man, Ghost, Dead Soul, Chorky, Nizzay/Nizary, Rubbish ("I chose the name Rubbish because I am not rubbish, and I won't change it!"), Lee Power, Violent, Dinosaur Boy, Samanfar, Smacker and Sissy.

OTOH, someone wrote that

This past week I have just discovered how little some of them identify with their English names. /.../ 26 of the 32 students have been using one English name in her class and a different one in my class for nearly a semester and a half.

As to how they're picked, Ben writes:

I've found that the English names Chinese people tend to choose generally fall into these several categories (all of the examples are from students I met in China):

1. Common names (Paul, Lily, Susan, Jon)
2. Animal/plant names (Swallow, Fly, Ghost, Bird, Lucifer)
4. Food names (Cherry, Apple)
5. Object/adjective names (Neat, Sunny, Power, King, Vivid, Water, Sea, Summer)
6. Number names (Six, Seven)
7. English names with creative spellings (Jarry, Blandon)
8. Superstar English names (Kobe, Dick Cheney, Benz, Zelda, Link)
9. Extra creative names (Silver Fox, Judy Chicago, Mou, Rain Man)

posted by martinrebas at 1:20 AM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

So basically, kind of like anyone picks 'a name', whether for an online account, or character, or western name.

Most of the Anglo names I've encountered were pretty boring. Becky, Jenny, etc, and I often asked people why they didn't just stick with their own, easy to pronounce name. There was a Venus, after Venus Williams, but she didn't expect the name to be unusual, it was a famous tennis player after all.
posted by Elysum at 1:35 AM on June 3, 2011

I knew a Chinese chap at school who called himself Gary. He was a big fan of Gary Lineker.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:41 AM on June 3, 2011

I was working with Korean students last summer and they all had American names. Some had been chosen by parents when they were born, some were self obtained (often things that just sounded cool), others were given to them by the Korean leaders of the company they were with. Lots of long and formal names that did not match personalities at all.

It turned into a housing nightmare. Room assignments with kids that can't remember their own name is tough. Let alone the whole "Korean age Vs American age" thing. We ended up with 12 year old girls that were by name and age listed 14 year old boys. Rough day redoing room mate assignments that were drafted four months in advance.
posted by Felex at 2:08 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My experience has been 50/50, with one coworker going as far as legally changing his name from Jie to Jay, and a former boss adding S. to his name so he could be known as Steve, since he was convinced he'd never be able to do business as Ming. Hi Indian business partner adopted Victor for use in lieu of Vivek.

I was told once that the antique quality of the names had to do with them being supplied by religious educators in China (this from a Hong Kong native) but I'm still surprised that they don't use the derivatives like Peggy, Sue, Dave, Vince, etc.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:09 AM on June 3, 2011

@holterbarbour for the win - in some cases, it's a lot of fun to be completely random. At a previous teaching job in Korea, I downloaded a baby names app for my iPod Touch. It had a scroll wheel of popular boys and girls names. I would flick through, and when the kid said STOP, I'd stop - whereever my finger landed, that would be one choice. Repeat once, twice, etc. then have the kid pick. Great classroom activity, FWIW.
posted by chrisinseoul at 2:13 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

At my university, several African students I know also have (seemingly arbitrary, possible Biblical) Anglo names that they use.

OT: Do English speakers ever take on East Asian names? I like the idea of having an East Asian name to complement my English one. Any suggestions?
posted by mnfn at 2:37 AM on June 3, 2011

Regarding derivatives - my observation is that it's getting less common for Chinese students to adopt Western names, but a few years ago at the university where I work we had twins who had chosen to call themselves Andy and Andrew. That was not at all confusing.
posted by nja at 2:48 AM on June 3, 2011

My second fave:

"Yes. Like the girl who fights the vampires."
"I know now, and I don't care."

My fave: d'Artagnan. I would murder somebody to be called d'Artagnan.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:58 AM on June 3, 2011 [16 favorites]

The few people I ever asked gave the following replies:

Johnson: "It's a good solid English name."
Harrison: "After the famous movie actor!"
Yvonne: "Sounds a lot like my chinese name, 'Yan Han'."
J: "I want a name beginning with 'J', but I'm not sure what."

The responses probably run the gamut. All were Chinese except J, who was Korean. Especially with regards to J, it seems like quite a personal choice, and there's no set way.
posted by Jehan at 3:08 AM on June 3, 2011

I had Chinese graduate students arrive in chicago and then rush to find names that were pronounceable - some started preparing in advance in which case half way through admissions the names would start showing up in emails and letters (causing utter chaos in the 'whose portfolio goes with which TOEFL score' games in the back office).

Some were phonetically linked, others were random but perhaps because they were older and this was a few years ago, they weren't creative so much as good solid names picked for sound (Vanessa for Wei, Steffi for SaXiao) or personal choice.

The Koreans didn't (at least in our program) though some had been baptised which is different.

The Taiwanese tended to follow the Chinese norm - so there was Donny whom I've never figured out yet who he was since I never admitted a Don, Donald or Donny :)

Interestingly, an Indian called Jayanto went with a Finnish version Janne over here... so it seems to have more to do with ease of use and convenience than anything else.
posted by infini at 3:41 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not East Asian, but a lot of the South-Asian and Middle Eastern Muslim kids I grew up with who had a Muslim name, would adopt Biblical and English equivalents. Yusuf became Joseph or Joey, Ibrahim became Abe, Dawud became David, etc.
posted by raztaj at 3:46 AM on June 3, 2011

While teaching in China, I often felt like my class roster looked like I was teaching at a stripper/nursing home fusion school. Kitty sat next to Fred, Candy was partners with Bob, and Scarlett never really got along with Dolores.

My favorite student though, hands down, was a sixth grader with the somewhat ostentatious name of Monkey D. Luffey. He was extremely particular about ensuring that his entire name, including the middle initial, was used at all times. One time during class I decided to get a bit risky and jauntily referred to him as "Mr. Luffey". Let's just say I never made that mistake again.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 4:08 AM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

When I was a kid, all the kids whose parents had picked their names for them when they moved here picked Biblical names. All of them. We had two Esther Kims in a class of 31. By the time I got to college, I was dealing with very young people who had picked their own names as teenagers, and they all had what I thought of as movie star names - no Mordecais or Marys, but plenty of Natalies and Charlies and Steves.

This also corresponded with an increase of kids who declined to change their names. Most ended out going by their surnames when interacting with us in the "practice your English skills with native volunteers, grad students from foreign places" program. Which I'm very glad I joined, if only because my conversation partner was convinced Washington couldn't be president because a) he was a general and b) Americans don't let their military govern the people.

(In my experience the Korean kids were the most likely to change their names, followed by Chinese kids and then Japanese kids. None of the Vietnamese kids did, which may explain why I was 15 before I realized that "Huy" isn't a typical English name, and to this day can't name a single actual Korean name despite having met about thirty people born there.)
posted by SMPA at 4:15 AM on June 3, 2011

OT: Do English speakers ever take on East Asian names? I like the idea of having an East Asian name to complement my English one. Any suggestions?

I have some friends who spent some time in China, and their 'Chinese names' were phonetic equivalents of their English names. They did get to choose which characters to write their name in. So basically, their name in Chinese sounded the same(ish) as their English name, but took on an added meaning from the particular characters they chose.
posted by Gordafarin at 4:53 AM on June 3, 2011

I'm with curiousZ; if Americans can manage "Blagojevich" and "Krzyzewski," they can figure out "Ming Na" or whatever. They can even remember to put the family name first on formal occasions.

For my East Asian friends born in the U.S. (first generation), their parents mostly gave them one name in their native tongue and one name in English; which was the first and which was the middle varied according to taste. Then the kids could use either one. Most of my friends who themselves were immigrants and born abroad just used their name in their native tongue; I think changing the name is becoming less common.

"Do English speakers ever take on East Asian names? I like the idea of having an East Asian name to complement my English one. Any suggestions?"

Doesn't everyone get to pick a foreign language name in high school foreign language class? ;) It's also not uncommon for businesspeople doing a great deal of business in a particular country to carefully select a pronounceable, local version of their name (if available), or something phonetically similar, or something with a similar meaning. You often see the English on one side of the business card and the local language on the reverse.

Regarding Koreans choosing Biblical names: The Methodist church is quite large in Korea, and Koreans who come to the U.S. may find a Korean-speaking community at a local Methodist church even if they, themselves, are not Christians and not members there. (The Methodist church around the corner from where I grew up had one sign in English, and one in Korean, with a note underneath about the Korean community center, all welcome, in Korean. In the midwest, in the suburbs, not anywhere particularly exciting like NYC.) Like SMPA, I knew multiple Biblical "Deborah Kims" and "Deborah Lees" (though only one Esther). Anyway, the Methodist connection may account for it, particularly if non-Christian Koreans who arrive in the U.S. are finding their pre-existing Korean-speaking community through the local church.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:04 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went to school with a lot of first generation kids whose parents were from China or South Korea. Mostly I think their parents chose their names; they were mostly sort of standard English names but with fewer "trendy" names than American kids- no Kelseys. It varied whether their English name was their legal first name or not- mostly they were, but some kids always had to correct the teacher on the first day.
posted by MadamM at 5:24 AM on June 3, 2011

Oh, and I also know of a few kids who changed (back?) to their other name when they started college, I guess because they decided on their own it was worth the hassle of telling people how to say it, and maybe they liked it better.
posted by MadamM at 5:25 AM on June 3, 2011

I think it's popular in any culture as part of the immersion process, and the choice is really up to whatever arcane thing they can think of. In French class in the US we chose French names to go by. I'll always remember being Jacques. Same first letter as Jason, and Jacques Cousteau was a cool ocean explorer/diver. I'll just never use it because I'm not in a French speaking area and if I was, they should be able to pronounce Jason just fine. With Spanish speakers that's not the case. I usually get called Hason, so I'm more likely to skip the weirdness and just introduce myself that way.
posted by jwells at 5:41 AM on June 3, 2011

Is there a Big Book of Anglo Names published, and people just pick one that sounds euphonious?

According to two Taiwanese former co-workers, basically, yes. In their English class, their textbook has a list of English names, separated by gender, and the instructor tells them to pick one to use as their English name. So they pick the one they like best, or that sounds somewhat like their Chinese name.
posted by orthogonality at 6:00 AM on June 3, 2011

My mom got her name in English as part of grade-school English. She went to a Catholic school, so she took the name of the saint whose day was closest to her birthday.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:48 AM on June 3, 2011

(this is one of those things I've always wondered but never thought to ask.)

I think it's such an interesting topic because it sort of trivialises the Western obsession over names. I mean, that the decisions are so arbitrary feels almost taboo.

I want a Korean name, too.
posted by oxford blue at 6:56 AM on June 3, 2011

In China, Friends is super-popular, so there are a lot of people who choose Monica, Joey, Rachel, etc.

OT: Do English speakers ever take on East Asian names? I like the idea of having an East Asian name to complement my English one. Any suggestions?

When I studied in China, I had never taken Chinese before, so my (native) teacher game me a name. The surname was based on the first syllable of my last name, and the given name was just a pretty name that my teacher liked. No one would have ever known I wasn't actually Chinese just by my name.

On the other hand, a lot of my friends who began studying in America had chosen their own names or been given them by non-native speakers. So there were a lot of people with transliterated names which were apparently anachronistic (Ma lan for Marla, etc), names which were random nouns, and my favorite, the guy who named himself Conquering Thunder. So, pretty much the exact same thing as English names, but in reverse.

It was also very interesting how, over the course of the semester, some people began to be called by their Chinese names in regular English conversation, whereas some people never did.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:57 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I lived in Germany for about five years, and my Chinese name (with an 'x' in the middle) gave me no end of grief, so when we moved to Canada I decided to pick a Western name.

I'd learned English in Germany, and the textbook that my teacher used featured four German students who made friends with an exchange student from Britain.

Now, the German characters in the book had perfectly normal names like "Sarah", but as I'd only consumed German and Chinese media up to then, I didn't really know whether an outlandish name like "Sarah" was a name unique to Germany, and I didn't want to start anew in Canada only to find out I'd picked the female equivalent of "Ludwig" or something.

So I went with the name of the British exchange student in the textbook, Jenny. It was either that or Harry Potter and Roald Dahl characters, and even I could tell thay probably wouldn't be a great idea.

Then I get to Canada and find out that "Jenny" is apparently a very typically Asian Western name. I have five other Asian Jennys in my Facebook, three of whom have last names that rhyme with mine.

posted by Phire at 7:16 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

We have a lot of Chinese developers at work who use English names of their choosing. Most common is something that sounds like their name (Li Yun = Lynn), although usually it is their last name if I understand it right. Anothe rpopular one is name of a Western celebrity they think has a good name (Simon from Simon Cowell). The most interesting case is when they just pick a good English word they like the sound of, which is no more of a common English name than what they started with. We have a Haze at work, which is pretty random.
posted by smackfu at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2011

I worked with a woman from China named "Tiffany." She was given the name by her English teacher in grade school.
posted by alms at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2011

I knew a guy called Foster, who claimed to have named himself after the first billboard he saw after arriving in Australia.
posted by zamboni at 7:19 AM on June 3, 2011

I'm with curiousZ; if Americans can manage "Blagojevich" and "Krzyzewski," they can figure out "Ming Na" or whatever.
For what it's worth, various Eastern European members of my family have also Anglicized their first names. That's usually easier to do for Europeans than for Asians, because there are English equivalents to most Eastern European names. But yeah, my cousin Andy is really named András. He goes by Andy professionally, and I'm sure that almost everyone assumes it's short for Andrew. I once met a Jadwiga who went by Holly. I think that Anglicizing is actually pretty common among many immigrant groups in the US.
posted by craichead at 7:20 AM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a Japanese pen-pal who lived in Australia (way back when people still wrote letters) whose name I could never spell correctly. I asked her one day if I could call her "May" since that's the way I kept misspelling her name. She loved the name and called herself that from then on.

I have an Indian friend (from India) whose name is very long and many people here in Mississippi cannot pronounce it - he tells everyone to call him "Chocolate" or "Cocoa" instead.

One of my Korean classmates insisted that we call him "Optimus Prime." So anyone who's ever watched Transformers knows where that came from. ^_^ And another of our Korean classmates called herself "Summer" because that's when her group first came to Mississippi, and she was under the misconception that it would be a beautiful season here.

I have a friend from Guyana who changed his name to "Andy" because that's what his girlfriend liked to call him (it was nothing like his really name which is very easy to pronounce).

Honestly, as others said, I think the process is arbitrary.
posted by patheral at 7:52 AM on June 3, 2011

Not a story about Asians in Australia, but...
I know a family of Armenian background who, upon immigrating to the US, wanted a more mainstream name. They chose Kevorkian, a patronymic of Kevork which is similar to George. They make a lot of jokes about Uncle Jack.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 8:00 AM on June 3, 2011

I met a Chinese woman whose chosen English name was "Bunni". To quote her: "That's what happens when you tell a four-year-old to choose a new name for herself."

(Before you ask, no - she wasn't involved in porn.)
posted by Citrus at 8:03 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My friend had to choose an English name for her college class. Her teacher handed her a Chinese/English dictionary with a list of names and their translations listed in the back. She chose "Angela" because it was near the front and she "was lazy". Some of the other kids took more time and really took care when they chose. My friend didn't care and just went with the first girl name she saw.

(I specifically gave her a call to ask her the question for you.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:44 AM on June 3, 2011

ESL teacher in California here, with many East Asian students. In my experience Vietnamese and Japanese never adapt "American" names but it's common with the Chinese (and based on info upthread I think I'll be seeing more younger Koreans doing this too, thankfully).

if Americans can manage "Blagojevich" and "Krzyzewski," they can figure out "Ming Na" or whatever.

Yeah but when 'whatever' includes the "X" and the "Q" what do you do? You eventually learn that x is actually pronounced "zh" and (most head-scratching of all) the q is pronounced "sh".
posted by Rash at 8:53 AM on June 3, 2011

I think the OP's question has lingered in the back of my mind my entire life without being verbalized. My father's Japanese immigrant parents named their children Ernest, Howard, Mabel & June (all with Japanese middle names, which were the ones used at home). I've often privately laughed about these seemingly-arbitrary choices & still wonder whether they asked amongst their relatives who were already here, "What's a normal-sounding name?"

I assume that my mother, herself an immigrant, gave me the name Beverly... which she can't even pronounce, for crying out loud, as there's no "V" sound in the Japanese language. My middle name is all I've ever been known by, so when I reached adulthood, I dropped the dreaded first name. (Apologies to the Beverlys out there.)
posted by PepperMax at 8:54 AM on June 3, 2011

I have several Scandinavian co-workers, who use "English" names whenever they go out to pick up food for lunch. Its just simpler to call your self "Steve" or "Chris", rather than spell your name and pronounce it three times for the food server, then try and figure out what the order guy is yelling when he sees your name written on paper.

My favourite example of why people do this,is when I went to a burger place with a French co-worker, Fabrice. The cashier dutifully typed his name into the register, which turned out to have a 6 character limit. When his order was ready, someone yelled "FABRIC!".
posted by Joh at 8:58 AM on June 3, 2011

mnfn: "OT: Do English speakers ever take on East Asian names? I like the idea of having an East Asian name to complement my English one. Any suggestions?"

When I took Mandarin at college, my professor gave us all Mandarin names, based off something that sounded something like our real names. When I took French and German in high school, we picked our own French and German first names from a list.
posted by QIbHom at 9:38 AM on June 3, 2011

In Vancouver, I knew a lot of Asian girls with English names that seemed to be picked out of 1960's midwestern or Texan yearbooks. Lorella, Phyllis, Darlene, Sharlene, Patricia, Helen. these were uncommon names among the white girls there. I thought their families had just tried to pick out uber-American names to fit in and ended up missing the mark. but amidst the swarms of Jessicas and Laurens in my classes, their names stuck out as very unique and pretty.
posted by custard heart at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2011

You're not alone out there, PepperMax. My Japanese-only speaking grandmother trying to pronounce my uncle Lawrence's name is akin to gargling cat. Of her three children and Japanese-American husband, only one of them has an easy to pronounce name in Japanese, and curiously, they've never used their Japanese names, even though they all have them.

I know that when Hawaii was getting a large influx of Japanese immigrants around the turn of the century, many of them were being brought in to work the sugar cane fields and pineapple plantations, and many of them had English names assigned to them by overseers, missionaries, and teachers. Around WWII, a lot more immigrants were using Western names as a way to assert their patriotism and deflect anti-Japanese sentiments. Very rarely have I found anyone in my grandparents generation with a Western name that was anything but uber-conventional at the time, like George or Ruth. After the internment, I imagine it took awhile before anyone felt safe enough to get whimsical or poetic with name choosing.

These days, most Japanese immigrants I know just use their Japanese name, although they'll frequently shorten it to make it a little more manageable for Western tongues, so you get things like Taka instead of Takahiro or Miki instead of Mieko. Occasionally they'll turn the name into a sound alike, like Amy instead of Emi. Fourth or fifth generation American-born kids (like me) are now more likely to get an unremarkable English name and a Japanese middle name they'll probably never use.

What's kind of funny about the middle name practice is that often the American-born parents will give their baby a hopelessly outdated name in Japanese, so if the kid were to ever use it, it would be like naming your kid Ezekiel in English.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:23 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regarding western people taking Asian names... I have a fairly common European male first name, and my wife has a very uncommon European last name, the kind that no one can ever, ever remember the first five or ten times they're told it. However, when we travel in Japan and have to give a name for a restaurant reservation, we always give HER name. My name is difficult for the Japanese to pronounce, and hers completely matches Japanese syllables - she can even spell it in kana without making any concessions. We were very amused when we figured this out because it's the first time that her name has actually been a convenience.
posted by Gortuk at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2011

Diagonalize, that's a very astute & amusing observation (about the ethnic middle name). I never even stopped to consider that names go in & out of fashion in other countries as well.

My first husband, a round-eye, was named Greg. My relatives just couldn't get their tongues around it & affectionately annointed him "Boy-san". My second husband (another round-eye) was named Jim. They called him "That Guy". That marriage didn't last long, so perhaps they knew something I didn't know.
posted by PepperMax at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

My favorite student though, hands down, was a sixth grader with the somewhat ostentatious name of Monkey D. Luffey. He was extremely particular about ensuring that his entire name, including the middle initial, was used at all times.

Haha! That's a character from the anime One Piece. (He's a pirate).

The older people in my extended family took on "Christian names" as adults - although only a couple are actually Christian. Apparently it is common to be assigned a westernized name at your baptism? Anyway, the Christian relatives all have Christian names(Peter, Michael), and the other have pretty retro sounding names(Angeline, Margaret, Lionel). My mother's name "Angie" comes from the letters "N" and "G", which for her last name.
posted by sawdustbear at 3:44 PM on June 3, 2011

Some of you mention names apparently chosen for their perceived American-ness. I've long been curious about the somewhat quaint, almost anachronistic names of some East Asians I've come across: Yvette, Camille, Jefferson, Scarlett, Venus, Cecilia, Greta, Arabella, Preston, Xavier, Evangelina, Aphrodite, Saskia, etc. (all actual). Whiff of distinction apart, maybe some such names are from when their parents were learning English, perhaps through olden stories??
posted by taramosalata at 5:14 PM on June 3, 2011

My girlfriend's name is Hui, pronounced "Hoy". It's not particularly difficult, and she likes it, so she uses that. But she had a teacher who gave her the name "Olivia" precisely because there's no V sound in Chinese, so she'd have to learn to say it right! And she does - besides "veggies" sometimes.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:33 PM on June 3, 2011

Alternative data point: my friend was given an english name by his parents on his birth certificate, with his Asian name as a middle name - but at home, was called by his Asian name. When he started school, he insisted that the Asian name was his actual name, and did so throughout the rest of his life.

When we graduated from uni, we were all very confused when Nathan was announced and he stood up.
posted by cholly at 6:21 AM on June 4, 2011

Living in Japan I went from Megan Jane to just MJ for ease of pronunciation but my son's family all still call me Mi-chan which is a common nickname for Japanese girls.
posted by gomichild at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2011

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