Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Cecelia Cutler

Committee Members

Gita Martohardjono

Miki Makihara

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Applied Linguistics | Other Linguistics


names, Chinese, onomastics, identity, cross-cultural, globalization


This dissertation examines the Chinese practice of adopting English names in the context of Chinese international students studying at American institutions of higher education. This work adopts the position of Bourdieu (1991) that there is a fundamental unity of the market, in that economic and political capital is connected to linguistic and cultural capital. Prosperity in one area is linked to others; people who have wealth and power tend to use language and have names that are similarly valued. In this situation, we are able to make choices about our linguistic and cultural stances based on our status within society. Such choices from what Mathews (2000) terms the cultural supermarket allow us to access varying levels of linguistic and cultural power. Such choices are subject to constant contestation depending on the ever fluctuating position of socioeconomic status (Volosinov, 1929/1973) and this study takes into account the sociocultural context in which name choices are made. It further considers, following von Bruck and Bodenhorn (2006), that names are entities in their own right. That is to say that names are not simply signifiers, but that they entail considerable indexical qualities. Individuals have a sense of ownership and attachment to their names (Valentine, Brennen, & Breddart, 1996).

Using these paradigms, this study surveyed (N=228) and interviewed (N=23) mainland Chinese international students in the United States about their use or non-use of English names. The study confirmed previous studies’ (e.g. Duthie 2002, Edwards 2006, McPherron 2009, Heffernan 2010, Chien 2012, Bailey & Lie 2013, Sercombe et al 2014, etc.) findings that English name adoption remains a dominant practice widely perceived as driven by pronunciation issues. This was the first such formal study of which the author is aware to be conducted in the United States.

The study also explores the potential advantages of adopting an English name beyond the frequently cited issue of pronunciation (e.g. Duthie 2002, Edwards 2006, McPherron 2009, Heffernan 2010, Chen 2016, etc.) and memorability (e.g. Edwards 2006, McPherron 2009, Chen 2016, etc.) In particular, the Chinese preference for titles over names in formal situations (Blum 1997, Sercombe, et al., 2014) along with Chinese given names typically being used only by family and close friends means that anglophone contexts (U.S. universities, international corporations, etc.) presents a challenge. Where neither Chinese given names (because they index a private life) nor titles, with or without family names, (because they contradict anglophone social mores) can be used, English names can fill an important gap. However, the adoption of English names is constructed from a Chinese perspective that does not necessarily fit American perspectives. The study also explores the stances of those who do not adopt English names while studying in the United States and argues that one factor influencing those who use their Chinese given names in anglophone contexts is their increasing familiarity with the American cultural practice of using only their given name. This contrasts with the greater flexibility of Chinese practice (e.g. Jones, 1997) of adopting multiple names.