What’s In a Name?

A name change can influence acceptance by self and others.

Posted Dec 05, 2017

Source: chuttersnap/Unsplash

People named Xuiying or Lei are less likely to get called for an interview than people named Greg or Emily. One response to this bias is to change one’s name. People like other people whose names are easy to pronounce. And Anglo names may cause White Americans to see immigrants as more American.

My parents named me Gordon Charles Hall, a very Anglo name. Japanese Americans, like my mother, incarcerated in United States internment camps during World War II wanted their children to assimilate. Assimilation was thought to prevent additional racial profiling. An Anglo name was part of that assimilation and showed that I was an American.

A cost of my Anglo name was racial ambiguity. I have often been asked, “What are you?” When I got married as a young adult, I reclaimed my Japanese identity by taking my wife’s last name as a middle name. I became Gordon Charles Nagayama Hall.

White American parents also often give their adopted Korean children Anglo names to help them assimilate. However, reclaiming one’s Korean birth name was found to be healing in a recent study of Korean American adoptees. Similar to my experience, an ethnic name provided an identity. On the other hand, changing one’s name may reduce the chances of being accepted by others.

Perhaps we need a more global perspective on what names are foreign. There are more than four times as many people in China than in the United States. Chinese is the most commonly spoken language worldwide. More than twice as many people speak Chinese than speak English. So maybe Americans should change their name to a Chinese name to make it more pronounceable and acceptable worldwide.

More importantly, find out what name an individual wishes to be called and learn how to pronounce it.


Kang, S. K., DeCelles, K. A., Tilscik, A., & Jun, S. (2016). Whitened resumes: Race and self-presentation in the labor market. Administrative Science Quarterly, 61, 469-502. doi: 10.1177/0001839216639577

Laham, S. M., Koval, P., & Alter, A. L. (2012). The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 752–756. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.002

Reynolds, J. D., Ponterotto, J. G., Park-Taylor, J., & Takooshian, H. (2017, November 27). Transracial Identities: The meaning of names and the process of name reclamation for Korean American adoptees. Qualitative Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/qup0000115

Zhao, X., & Biernat, M. (2017). “Welcome to the U.S.” but “change your name”? Adopting Anglo names and discrimination. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70, 59-68. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2016.12.008