It’s Anaan not Allen: Personal Names and Cultural Identity


As naming consultants, when we’re naming products or companies we generally recommend a name that’s easy and intuitive for target audiences to say and spell. But when naming babies? Well, ease of pronunciation can often take a second seat to other important factors, like cultural pride and family lineage.

Yet there’s a price to pay if your name veers from the norm. According to some research, Americans with ethnic first names earn about 14% less than those with names from the dominant culture (if you’re hired at all). And then there are the social obstacles and costs that start in childhood when peers and even teachers are unwilling to make the extra effort to accept—and properly pronounce—ethnic names. But what are the personal costs of Anglicizing one’s name? And how can we truly embrace the diversity that characterizes our country when it comes to this most fundamental manifestation? These were some of the issues explored in an interesting discussion on the radio show Forum this week.