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Say my name: International students swap out birth names in favor of simplicity

By Rasika Rane, For The Miami Student

What's in a name? For some international students, a name can spare them awkward encounters, confusion or, simply, help them feel accepted.

Many international students, primarily from Asian countries, take on names commonly used in the United States when they arrive on campus.

International students may adopt these names to aid English-speaking peers. The common names are also less likely to be mispronounced by professors.

International students' native languages - such as Mandarin Chinese - contain more phonemes and tonal vocalization, which is difficult for English speakers to pronounce.

Junior Minjie Wang, who prefers to go by the first name Michelle, explained why she and many other international students make the change.

"Some students just want to use their English name to provide American professors with convenience, so that they will not encounter any awkward moments about mispronouncing their Chinese names," Wang said. "Whereas, some students pick English names that have similar pronunciation to their Chinese names, but westernized."

Senior Yidan Zhang, who goes by Aviva, said she chose the name because its meaning matched her outgoing and enthusiastic personality. Her reasons for adopting a new name are different from Wang's.

"I don't like people to mispronounce my name because I think it's a disgrace to others to butcher the pronunciation of my precious name given by my parents," Zhang said.

Like Zhang, many international students also choose a name because it matches their personality, or if it is given to them by someone they care about.

"Michelle, this English name, is given by one of my favorite teachers from my primary school," Wang said.

Di Wen chose the name Ivan for various reasons.

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He said he chose the name because most of his friends had done it and it was easier for him to settle into his new environment.

"My English name doesn't have relation to my Chinese name," Wen said. "I just picked the name from the dictionary because I like the pronunciation of the name."

Wen said he did not have many problems with mispronunciation, as his Chinese first and last name are easy for Americans to pronounce.

"Lots of American students prefer to call me Di," Wen said.

Apart from the more common reasons for renaming themselves, there is a new trend among international students to select distinct, unique names.

Zhang (Aviva) said her English name is a combination of Spanish, French and Italian names.

"By having a memorable English name, people can be distinctly differentiated," said Zhang.

The uniqueness of the name is also a reason Wen chose his English name.

"Sometimes their Chinese names are very hard to pronounce so they pick English names instead of correcting other people on how to pronounce the name," said Wen. "An English name is easier for people to recognize and accept."