Anglicizing names


Arun Vajpey

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Jul 8, 1999
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One of the issues that has puzzled and annoyed me is why several Middle Eastern and other immigrants to the US found it necessary to anglicize their names in order to integrate into the mainstream society in the Guilded Age era. For example, today I read here that Titanic survivor Jamilah Yarid became Amelia Garrett; did they do so mainly of their own accord or were they "persuaded" by the prevalent atmosphere?

Considering that the USA was built largely upon incoming immigrants, this anglicizing of non-Caucasian sounding names sounds neo-Colonial to me, with racist undertones. After all, there were many Scandinavian passengers with tongue twisting names who retained them - or at least were not forced to change.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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One of the issues that has puzzled and annoyed me is why several Middle Eastern and other immigrants to the US found it necessary to anglicize their names in order to integrate into the mainstream society in the Guilded Age era. For example, today I read here that Titanic survivor Jamilah Yarid became Amelia Garrett; did they do so mainly of their own accord or were they "persuaded" by the prevalent atmosphere?

Considering that the USA was built largely upon incoming immigrants, this anglicizing of non-Caucasian sounding names sounds neo-Colonial to me, with racist undertones. After all, there were many Scandinavian passengers with tongue twisting names who retained them - or at least were not forced to change.
Probably a little of both. Sometimes for none other than practical reasons. Its why in certain countries I have visited I didn't scream out my last name too loud...:)
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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Some immigrants freely changed their names, just to simplify life. I knew some Greeks who knocked a few syllables off their name for that reason. A famous example was the father of Vice-President Spiro Agnew. He began as Theophrastos Anagnostopoulos but became Theodore Agnew after migrating to the USA.

Some immigrants have to change their names to avoid hopeless confusion when their national tradition is drastically different from the ways of their new land. Many lands put the family name first. Some even have extra words that indicate status in the family, rather than being names. I've seen problems in medical records caused by a combination of foreign practices and our ignorance of them. Imagine a maternity ward full of women called Thi Nguyen. It's not just a matter of discrimination.
 

TimTurner

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Dec 11, 2012
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Some names can't be translated into English. For example, using foreign accent marks, or non-Romanized characters. America, of course, has always welcomed English, and there's been a fair amount of Frankophilia and even Germanophilia. Spanish has always been tolerated. But beyond those languages, America just never had the typewriters that would handle it.

If you ever dealt with a large variety of strange sounding names, you'll have noticed that names tend to get shortened, changed, or mutilated. I know one guy who everyone called "T12" because his 12-letter name started with a T. It was Tchelliminski or something like that. I know a Kimlee that was constantly frustrated by people calling her Kimberly. And often enough people just go by different names. I know of one, I don't know George or Steven or something that went by "Chuck". I've had a couple of co-workers that had to turn their names into sentences in order to get the pronunciation correct: Yoszeneurdbetdst becomes "Joe's North Bed". I'm constantly droping a sylable from my boss's name because of the way my accent and quick speech "Joesnerbed", which sounds close enough to me, but I'm sure his ear notices it. To some of my friends, I'm "Teemu" or "Teemushee" because that's the closest sounds their language has.

So if you're moving from language area to another language area, you might as well pick a new name you like that people can pronounce.
 

Joe L

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Jun 9, 2020
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Also, consider that many immigrants spoke with very "thick" accents that were very often difficult to understand. With hundreds, if not thousands of passengers to process through the facilities, there simply was not enough time in a typical workday, to try to sort it all out. Many interviewers simply got frustrated and wrote down what they thought they heard, phonetically, and wrote it down as it sounded to them, using, more often than not, English spellings of the perceived pronunciation. An immigrant fresh off the boat, so to speak, certainly wasn't going to try to argue with those in charge of the situation, with the fear of retribution or refusal of entry. They simply let it go and probably thought it would be easier to deal with it later, if at all.
 

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