A Name is Just a Dai Hao

One of Huan Hsu‘s Chinese coworkers called him “Steve” for months, wondering why Hsu, unlike most other young professionals in mainland China, had yet to pick an English name for himself. Another of Hsu’s friends, who goes by dozens of names depending on the situation, tells him “a name is just a dai hao.” In other words, a code name, no more anchored to one’s core identity than a necktie or a pair of high heels. We already know that success or failure isn’t encoded in the name your parents choose for you. But what about the name you pick for yourself? [%comments]


Indians too work with Americans a lot and on similar terms and we usually don't pick a western name... call center workers and Indians who've been in the US are an exception - at the max we might shrink our names or use initials. Could be that why China seems a bit ahead in development? If so maybe there is a preferred name - success correlation?

Juan F Duque

I was TAing for a class while doing my master and it happened that one of my students had picked Bruce as his "English" name. His last name was Lee. Obviosuly I gave him an A.


Mapgirl was born out of necessity for some radio-protocol stuff I was doing. People started calling me that in real life, thus a nickname was born and it's been with me ever since. I try to get new friends to use it, but they find it odd.

My Asian family uses my English name. Legally I am First Name Last Name, all in English. The Asian name I have is used only on my degrees and diplomas out of sentimentality, but no one ever calls me that.

My entire family uses their English names because most of us were born here. The ones that moved here after college still use their Asian name, but mostly because no one knows the English name they use with colleagues in the US. Always a surprise when I found out what they picked.

James V

Names you pick for yourself have their place In my mind, it's a emotional nudge, a way to declare your confidence in some aspect of your identity.

In the virtual world, calling yourself KillZappa #1 in a online competative game is there to give the other guy pause and pump you up.

In the real world, pop singer Beyonce Knowles has a stage persona called Sasha Fierce.

It's all you, but emphasized for the public.

Jack McNally

Except that on the flip side, converting an english name to a chinese name is fraught with worry, difficulty and auspicious stroke counts. Perhaps it's only a handle in a foreign language?


For informal or infrequent meetings, I can see someone with an uncommon name (whether Indian or Scandinavian... honestly I have more trouble with the latter) using a nickname or a shortened form.

For colleagues though, I'd prefer to learn how to pronounce the name by which the individual actually goes, even if it means butchering it a little. I think it's a sign of respect.

Joe Smith

The use of English names by foreign born workers is hardly new. Forty years ago my parents had a good friend from Denmark whose real name was Sven - he went through life after immigrating as "Andy".

And there is the (apocryphal?) tale of the Jewish immigrant who became "Sean Ferguson" at Ellis Island.


I had an Indian friend in college who went by his real name almost all the time. The only exception was when ordering food, when he became "Fred." He hated people struggling and mispronouncing his name all the time and made it easier for them.

I have a lot of Polish immigrants in my family that tend to go by "Americanized" versions of their names, but it's not a big change. Wladek becomes Walter. Teodora becomes Theodora.

The one that gives the most trouble is my dad where he's named Jan and called John. It's slightly confusing at doctors and such when he needs to be called up from a waiting room. It's more funny when he gets women's magazines in the mail or telemarketers trying to sell some product made for women.


As a Chinese-American without a English name, I find most of those are just thought it was the hip thing to do. Vast majority of Chinese with English names had no business using them while many of those who has a legitimate need for it don't have one.


Name changing at Ellis Island is probably not true. They hired people who spoke the languages of the people arriving, so communication was not an issue.

Also, the inspectors ( or whatever the proper term was ) were supposed to be working off the passenger lists from the boats, so changing someone's name would have broken the system.

The most likely point at which a person would have their name changed would be *before* they got on the boat, hence it was their own choice.

Science Minded

Chinese spirits abound with name calling. We in the west define ourselves by our names (chosen for us/and or self-selected).


As a Chinese major, my professor gave me a Chinese name (which sounded vaguely similar to my English name by was a good Chinese name in and of itself) early on in my studies. Later when I lived in China, my signature (in English) was not considered valid for signing documents, and if I signed my name in English I was handed back whatever the document was and asked to please write my Chinese name instead. In fact, when doing a physical for a visa, there was no input for English characters in the system at that facility so my legal name was nowhere on my student visa form, only my Chinese name.

This combined with the fact that very few of my Chinese friends or other foreign student classmates even knew my English name (nor did I know my Russian classmates' "real" names) meant that my Chinese name was my identity. In fact, now back in the US it's still the first name I give in introductions with Chinese speakers and the name my friends abroad prefer to use in correspondence even though they now know my English name.

Having recently started learning Uyghur and been given a Uyghur name my teacher and several others call me by, I'm beginning to wonder how many of these "identities" I can accumulate...

-何瑞池 / Rachel / رعنا



#10 - tudza: Ellis or other immigration intakes did screw up names. My family Sicilian name is non existant and only recently did we find out that it was probably different based on historical records.

That said the 4 of the 5 immigrant sons eventually changed even that "wrong" last name to a generic "American" last name to either get job by being less discriminated against, or to front a speakeasy- depending on which brother it was. The one brother who KEPT that wrong family last name had visions of political gain and didn't want to walk away from it- plus his first and last name started with A so it was aliterative. The two sisters in the mix both got married and took their husbands names.

#8- Uthor: I had an Anglo/white friend who had a hard to spell yet silly last name who would always change it for ordering food. It took too long to correct the spelling or people would crack up and make jokes or comments about his name- like he had never heard those same silly jokes 1,000 times before...

I took my last name during high school since one of my good friends shared first names and our friends wanted to differentiate between us when talking to us etc...

I try to pronounce the Indian names when calling a call center there. I don't want to talk to Steve or Mary when I know their names are probably more on the lines of Pehlaj or Sangeta. I have less success when calling a US based center and I get a person with an African American name that is similar sounding but not the exactly the same as a historically traditional name.

Names- online handles, cb handles (for those who remember), foreign names, in country names, etc. Interesting.



this how you pronounce freakonomics okay so (freak-con-no-mics)