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November 13, 2021


Having your (non-English) name butchered on arrival in the US was common. Innumerable European immigrants ended up with a family name that nobody in their country of origin would recognize. To the point the "Ellis Island" was a standard explanation for a family name.

On balance, I'd guess that Japanese surnames came off better than most. Simply because the phonemes used in Japanese are so much closer to those used in American English than the phonemes of Polish or Hungarian, or even German.

The section about personal names was interesting, too. I wonder what the author would have found if he went past the Nissei?

For instance, I know a bunch of Sansei women with names like Reiko, Ayako and Yooko (to list just some of my ex-girlfriends), plus one Masae. Mostly with "Christian" middle names. (One got "Christine" for that reason.) But while that appears to have been common for kids born in the 1950s, twenty years later seems like kids got "standard American" names.

Chinese Americans seem to have more usually gotten a Chinese personal name as a middle name, if at all. (Ex: Nancy Alice Yuk-Sum Chang, to toss in another ex-girlfriend.) My guess is that it was a matter of whether their Anglo neighbors could pronounce the name at all.

What would be an interesting study is which of these Asian names get absorbed into the collection of "standard American names" -- i.e. those non-British English which get applied regardless of ethnic group. Like, for example, Sean or Rodrigo have (and I've met Asian Americans with both). I can picture someone named Jesus Mohammed Nguyen or Mariko Elizabeth Sanchez. ;-)

A few years back one of my bilingual colleagues created a presentation and short worksheet for how to pronounce Mandarin names. It's really sad to me that I've had adult students tear up in office hours because I was literally the first teacher they had in years of classes in America who made an attempt to say their name properly.

Visibility matters. Deeply.

Any chance you still have a copy of that presentation and worksheet that you could share?


All that info is on university servers under controlled access, wj. Sharing it would get someone in legal on my ass.


Sometimes, I really wonder what universities (or companies) are thinking when they decide what needs to be kept confidential. But I understand you don't make the decisions; you just have to live with them.

In this case there is a matter of balance involved.

The content is created by an individual who retains ownership of the material because to waive that would be to allow the university to hire that person, let them teach a course, let the university take the content created for the course and reuse it in perpetuity, and choose to hire another person to present or proctor that information at much cheaper cost. If this line is not held, then administrations everywhere will crate country clubs with attached MOOCs.

And if the employee retains the rights, then the university is going to try to keep the employee from giving that information away for free, otherwise they lose their value proposition for tuition and exclusivity.

We could have open universities, sure, but to do that we'd have to find ways to tip university power towards creators and teachers and away from administrators and rentiers.

I'm betting, though, that there's a similar presentation on the web published as a Creative Commons document if you look. I've been a supporter of CC for as long as it's been a thing.

if the employee retains the rights, then the university is going to try to keep the employee from giving that information away for free

IANAL, but if the creator retains the rights, seems like the university is on shaky group trying to lock it away.

And yet the argument against confidentiality is that because the employee created the content and was paid from public monies, that the content should be available to the public and not be held out of the public eye by either creator or employer.

Whatever the case, though, the information is not mine to share, nor do I know enough to produce my own version of the information that I could choose to share.

Thanks for stopping by, was wondering if anyone was going to comment at all!

Sansei names have pretty much the same distribution as 'regular' names, cause the 3rd generation is pretty much assimilated (Japanese-Americans have the highest out-marriage rate of any ethnic minority). The middle name thing is that everyone is expected in the US to have a middle name, so it's a US culture feature, so it would be strange to give someone two Japanese names, I think.

With Chinese, it is a feature of English education for them to be given an English name. Part of it is the foreign teacher influence, especially related to Hong Kong, but also going into China itself, cause tones are tough, so giving them a classroom English name avoids that. It also plugs into teaching pedagogy that still floats around about making the classroom an outpost of the native culture. Also, in Hong Kong, they will often individually choose an English name (Think Jackie Chan, Andy Lau or Tony Leung) And if they aren't famous, they can (and do) change those names to mark specific events or rites of passage.

The Chris Rock piece got me thinking about what I refer to as defaultism. (I don't know if I'm the only person to use that term, but I'm commenting with googling to find out.) White people are the default and don't even require a modifier most of the time.

It's the reason some people got upset, for example, when they remade "Annie" casting Black actors for some of the main roles. "Why did they have to make Annie black?" (No-cap "black" that time. People who ask this question wouldn't capitalize it.)

Well, why not? Why don't you ask why Annie has to be white? Are there no poor Black kids in NYC? (I mean, it was a pretty sucky movie, so that should be far more worthy of complaint than the color of Annie's skin, IMO.)

Another example, when Rick and Michonne became a couple on "The Walking Dead," someone I went to HS with complained about it being "political," as though the only reason a white character and a Black character would get together romantically would be to make some kind of statement or push approval of interracial relationships onto the audience. Forget that they had both lost their spouses earlier in the apocalypse, had more or less been living together for years, and had been defending each other physically and supporting each other emotionally in all manner of danger and crises throughout.

Why shouldn't they end up in a romantic relationship? What made that at all implausible, such that you should question the motivation of the writers for making that choice? I have to assume there wouldn't have been anything "political" about it if Michonne were white, because that would be, you know, normal.

As so often, Hollywood lags the broader culture. At this point, interracial marriages, especially white-Asian but also white-black, are utterly unremarkable. At least in urban and suburban areas.

Eventually Hollywood will figure it out. Maybe when over a quarter of the cast (or maybe the producers/directors) are in interracial marriages.

But so far, it is noteworthy that they have started casting South Asian and Arab/Muslim characters, not as a statement but just as another part of the typical population. See, for example, the various crime shows (NCIS, FBI, etc.). Baby steps.

I expect that, after those growing up with such shows reach adulthood, the remaining bastions of racism will find their overall attitudes changing. No doubt to horrified complaints from the older generation.

i hadn't noticed what i though was 'bad acting' in Squid Game. everything i've noticed i chalked-up to something like cultural differences.

the guy from Pakistan seems a little off? ok, but what do i know about guys from Pakistan who move to Korea? maybe there's a type. or maybe the character is a Korean stereotype of a Pakistani guy.

the whole show is at such a cultural distance from me, especially the language, that i can't even get close to the nuances of acting.

and that's fine. the story is still fun.

If Rick had started up a dalliance with a female black zombie, it would have been OK to the death-loving whiners.

I wonder if they would have complained if a black zombie and a white zombie converged on one of the main still living characters and started simultaneously chewing on the latter's face, as the zombies seemed to be fairly integrated as they staggered across the landscape, though maybe they weren't giving that part of real life a second thought considering they were, ya know, dead and beyond politics.

All God's zombie chillin gotta eat too, after all.

If the show had depicted ALL of the zombies as exclusively dead transsexual black men coldstepping and shouldering their way into a public, still human ladies' restroom and grring at the women fixing their makeup, the conservative dumbshits would have shrugged and said "Dear Dreher God, this show is just like real life. Did FOX produce this documentary?"

I actually found that show boring. It was a soap opera interrupted every 15 minutes when things got a little slowe by zombie attacks. I actually started rooting for the zombies because they didn't squabble among themselves like the still-living zomboids.

One of my favorite zombie flicks was "Fido", wherein humanity had fitted the zombies with remote control shock collars and made them into a menial workforce ... cutting lawns and such for .... no pay and no health insurance.

Again, pretty close to a real life wet dream for some zombie MBA candidates.

A housewife, fed up with her checked-out human hubby who pays her no attention, develops a romantic attachment to their yard zombie, and quite frankly, who could blame her.

The zombie at least listened to her and if he made a move toward her, she could zap him, not that she would have.

At this point, interracial marriages, especially white-Asian but also white-black, are utterly unremarkable. At least in urban and suburban areas.

"Utterly unremarkable"?

Maybe you should get out more.

Also, as to hsh's "defaultism" -- a question for lj. Does memory serve, and isn't the "default" called "unmarked" in linguistics? I've never run into that distinction (marked/unmarked) anywhere else, but it sure would come in handy in relation to racial topics.

"Utterly unremarkable"?

Maybe you should get out more.

Probably true. But it's certainly unremarkable here. Hence my caveat about "urban and suburban" areas.

isn't the "default" called "unmarked" in linguistics?

After a quick look at the linguistic definition (or, apparently, definitions), it seems like the general term in ordinary conversation would be "usual." "Normal" having acquired serious value-judgement overtones.

In some of the Korean dramas I've watched, the actors playing Americans, Europeans, etc. speak English with a Korean accent. I guess there are enough South Koreans of European descent to provide a few actors to play those roles.

Of course, the Netflix Korean productions have the budget and willingness to bring in actors they need from wherever.

Leaving out those parts of the country where a strong minority still openly laments the end of miscegenation laws, is the 'tolerance' still partially dependent on whether it is black woman and white man or white woman and black man? Or has the decline of one-sided dominance in relationships levelled that too?

I've watched some recently produced American dramas that seem to have an improbable number of interracial marriages.

What makes a non-African name 'black' in the US? I know that there are names that are seen as typically black (and can e.g. be the deciding factor, whether someone is invited for a job interview or not) but I do not fully understand where this 'coloredness' of names comes from and how it has not evened out in the last 150 years. Is that just a case of Kevinism at work?
It's not as if e.g. Biblical names only occur in black and evangelicals. Or can someone acculturated in the US easily distinguish between an black and an evangelical Biblical name?
The Puritan tradition of naming their kids after the ten commandments seems to have died out (which the kids can probably appreciate, should someone tell them that this was an actual thing).

"That African-Americans have a tendency to buck more common names is obvious. Take a quick glance down the Olympic roster. It is the black names that disproportionately stand out: Tayshaun, Deron, Rau'shee, Raynell, Deontay, Taraje, Jozy, Kerron, Hyleas, Chaunte, Bershawn, Lashawn, Sanya, Trevell, Sheena, Ogonna, Dremiel. You can safely bet that NBC's commentators practiced these a few more times in the mirror than the name "Michael Phelps." And, indeed, black Americans have spearheaded and continue to lead the trend of creative naming in this country, even if they haven't garnered as many headlines as Gwyneth Paltrow. Creative naming has reached every race and class, but "it is largely and profoundly the legacy of African-Americans," writes Eliza Dinwiddie-Boyd in her baby-naming book "Proud Heritage." Shalondra and Shaday, Jenneta and Jonelle, Michandra and Milika -- in some parts of the country today, nearly a third of African-American girls are given a name belonging to no one else in the state (boys' names tend to be somewhat more conservative)."
What's up with black names, anyway?: From Tayshaun to Rau'shee, Olympic athletes have been a reminder of distinctive African-American names. Before you poke fun, here's a history lesson.

50 Black Baby Names: Learn the meaning and origins of popular Black baby names

What makes a non-African name 'black' in the US?

there are a small handful of very common Anglo first names and surnames that were stereotyped in popular culture in the 70s as being black, when found in combination. surnames that are more widespread in the south, especially.

just casual racism picking up on naming trends, i suppose.

Just here to quickly confirm the discussion of "markedness" in linguistics, and from linguistics into literary and critical theory.

WRT wj and "normal," the term I hear/read most often used in scholarly discussions is "normative." That puts the emphasis directly on the function of such terms in conversation, not just the prevalence or the effect.

Fixed Hartmut's Kevinism link.....

A few years back one of my bilingual colleagues created a presentation and short worksheet for how to pronounce Mandarin names.

The company I work for has a large-ish office in Sofia Bulgaria. There is a lot of wincing when US-ians try to pronounce Eastern European names.

What makes a non-African name 'black' in the US?

There are a lot of names that are typically if not exclusively used by American blacks.

Just like there are names that are typically if not exclusively used by other demographics.

I live in an old fairly traditional New England town. I know people named Fraffy, Ducky, and Perky. We’re not just talking white, we’re talking little whales on your belt white.

My father was born and raised in rural Georgia. I have family with names like Exley, Melba, and Trey. Lotta my GA family (including me) go by their middle name, which is quite often some other relative’s last name.

A lot of ethnicities pick names that are similar to names in their original language. Lots of Poles named Stan, lots of Greeks named George or Nick, lots of Italians named Tony and Maria.

I’m not sure why distinctively black names should be called out for special attention.

WRT wj and "normal," the term I hear/read most often used in scholarly discussions is "normative."

I shoould have thought of that one, too.

We can be glad that at least common use has avoided the IT world's fondness for "standard" and, worse, "best practices." Think what the racists would do with "best practices"!

I’m not sure why distinctively black names should be called out for special attention.

Because the stereotypical 'black' names are not connected to Africa but are specific for US blacks. And I asked why this certain set of names became attached to blacks historically (because I don't know).
Other groups tend to go for names from their original ethnicity (e.g.Irish) or chose from the Bible (in particular the Old Testament).
Therefore my second question: do blacks have a specific set from the Bible that they chose that differs from that of evangelicals* (and maybe Mormons)?
For comparision: over here in Germany there are also a lot of Biblical names but with little overlap to the stereotypical evangelical set(we have mostly names from the New Testament). And those names say little to nothing about the person's background. Immigrants may use slightly different spellings but that's about it.

*I assume that is an English Puritan heritage.

the stereotypical 'black' names are not connected to Africa but are specific for US blacks

Other groups came voluntarily, and retained at least cultural ties to their origins. And the option to select their own names.

Blacks, in contrast, got stuck with whatever name their owner picked -- because it was easy for him to say and remember. When, in the mid- to late 20th century, there was a desire to use "African names", they generally didn't even have a guess as to what part(s) of Africa their ancestors came from. Let alone what names were used there. So imagination ruled the day.

Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, there are a set of last names that are almost always marked as "black", Washington and Jefferson being the most prominent.

My middle name is my maternal grandmother's maiden name; a couple of guys I met and became friends with in grad school had family last names as middle names, they were from Georgia and North Carolina. I would guess it's a cultural thing of passing the last names from female members of families (who of course would change to their husbands' names) onto male descendants.

I basically agree with wj. American black people's histories were erased, to the degree that their white owners could erase them.

My impression is that names preferred by American blacks have varied over time. In the colonial period and into the 1800s names from the Bible and classical culture were common, along with occasional names that actually were rooted in African culture, e.g. Cuffee.

Turn of the 20th C, names like Freeman and Booker became popular, alongside aspirational names like King and Prince, for fairly obvious reasons. Along with the Biblical names.

Names that we think of as "black" nowadays emerged (I think) in the context of the Civil Rights and black identity movements beginning in the middle 20th C. As far as I can tell, black people appear to have decided to invent their own names, as a way of establishing a distinct identity within a predominantly white culture.

Similar to the phenomenon of Kwanzaa, which was invented by American blacks as a distinctly black holiday and first celebrated in 1966.

And please take all of the above with a grain of salt, because I'm not black, and do not wish to present myself as a spokesperson for American blacks. The above is just my understanding.

Interesting to bring up unmarked in this case and hsh's notion of 'default'. One of my grad teachers, Talmy Givon, was big on the notion that language should be looked on as a biological system and in biological systems, you often have a Pareto distribution. The whole department was a functional department, in contrast to a Chomskyan approach.

Of course, it is a lot easier to deal with the unmarked when they are phonemes or syntactic structures. When they are people with their own motivations and desire to either blend in or to stand out, things get more complicated.

It's also interesting to think about the default naming when it becomes problematic and the reaction to the reaction, like with 'Karen', which is exacerbated by a culture that wants to track you. Changing your name in a wired world is a lot harder than it was just 50 years ago.

Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, there are a set of last names that are almost always marked as "black", Washington and Jefferson being the most prominent.

for the record, that's what i was getting at in my 11:56.

This might be of interest,


On the Hollywood aide of this discussion, a dear friend of mine is a playwright whose spouse is part of the university Drama department (sometimes aptly named, don't ask). One of the things she has done is create plays with minimal staging requirements that have characters written in non-binary ways and parts of character backgrounds that can be developed by the student actors themselves to fit their background and the sorts of casting calls they will face in their professional lives. That way the play can be restaged with few adaptations no matter what the recruitment sends their way.

It's not a matter of stripping away any cultural and ethnic elements, it's a matter of writing the material with the needs of a diverse cast/audience in mind and trying to be true at the same time you are being welcoming.

The ones I have seen have been awesome, BTW.

It's not as if e.g. Biblical names only occur in black and evangelicals.

Indeed. Biblical names Adam, Sarah, Seth, David, (not Bathsheba) Isaac, Rachel, Rebecca, Miriam, Noah, etc. - are popular among Jews. For some reason both Matthew and Mark are common also, but not Luke (I've never met or heard of a single Jewish Luke) or John, though there are Jons aplenty.

Some non-biblical names which are or used to be common- Seymour, Howard, Max - were adopted as assimilation efforts, because they were seen as upper-class British names. Didn't work.

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