Was there a lot of pressure on immigrants to "Americanize" their names even in the 1950s on?

I know about Ellis island and people changing names difficult to pronounce in English, especially in the entertainment industry or where your name is prominent. I can’t say in my own experience there is any particular social disapproval to odd or foreign names.

But more recently was there a lot of pressure? I have an uncle that came to the US as a child and once he turned 18 he legally changed both his first name(four letters and a breeze to pronounce) to an actually longer name and his last name to his American step fathers last name(granted his birth last name is difficult to pronounce in English). Everyone said he did it because he hated having a foreign name.

Personality quirk, or was there pressure socially?

I’ve been told by Americans that my lastname could not be my lastname, both in the 1990s and in the 2000s. It’s three words. One insisted I had to add dashes, others wouldn’t believe that the “de XXX” part wasn’t my husband’s name (I’ve had other people make that assumption, but when I tell them I’m not married and that’s part of my lastname, most accept the correction rather than insisting*), most commonly I was told to drop the last two words. Taking the TOEFL, I had to show passport, national ID and driver’s license before the proctors would accept that yes, that thing is my lastname, no, I’m not giving you both lastnames it’s only the first one, no, I’m not including my husband’s name I’m not married.

People from other cultures have found the clumsy thing strange and asked about it, but haven’t told me to change it. Since it’s such a pain in the ass, everybody in my family is used to having to correct people about it, explain it and so forth from a young age; if we had a more normal name and after moving suddenly found ourselves having to defend it, it might be easier to go ahead and change it.

  • I hope I would have noticed if I’d ever gotten married, plus I don’t know anybody still living who follows that old convention of adding the husband’s lastnames to the wife’s, with a de as connector.

Americans can be funny about names - I’ve lived here all my life and still get told I have to have a middle name, you can’t leave the hospital with your baby with giving it a last name, etc. Oh, and then when I got married I went and hyphenated it (honestly, regardless of whether a woman changes her name or not at marriage someone will give her crap for it these days). When my bank was sold the new owners had an issue with that and kept “fixing” my name on the account. I gave them tons of crap for it, insisted on having my legal name on the account, no, I am NOT paying for a name change when YOU made the change by mistake… Honestly, given the diversity of names I see every day I can NOT be the only person with this sort of problem.


These days, not so much pressure to change “exotic” names, although when I worked in a corporation that had a sudden influx of Chinese interns most of them seemed to adopt an “American” name. Seems Americans consistently mangled the pronunciation of their names (wonder if it had something to do with tones?) and rather than hear mangled versions of their names they adopted aliases Americans could consistently pronounce and that, presumably, they liked they sound of or had some sort of attachment to. Not all of them did that, though, and it certainly wasn’t required.

Reading this, I thought of onetime UN Sec’y General Pérez de Cuéllar. I looked him up and he had two three-word last names.
Javier Felipe Ricardo Pérez de Cuéllar y de la Guerra

And the first one tells us that his ancestors came from this town :slight_smile: (Pérez from Cuéllar).

All of my Chinese friends/relations, and several of my European acquaintances had “English” names in the 70’s in Aus and Canada. They’ve all switched back to their birth names now.

My name, with two 'h’s in it, is difficult for foreigners, especially those from the sub-continent and the French.

My wife gets mad with the cold callers on the phone who consistently mangle it. I wonder - if we emigrated India - would we consider adopting a name that was easier for friends and colleagues to pronounce?

A factor in this is that an enormous amount of the meaning and poetry in a Chinese name is in the specific character used. A Chinese name written in Roman characters is a shadow of itself, missing an entire dimension.

Often people find it better to take on a new and easy to use name than to try to translate something that is essentially untranslatable. It’s pretty normal for parents to choose a western name for their kids, or for kids to pick one out in high school or college.

It works the other way, too. Approximating foreign names in Chinese is unsatisfying, because the characters used to approximate the sounds have meanings of their own, and trying to get something that sounds right while not having a totally incoherent or even unflattering meaning is tough. Done poorly the result can be really bad (such as Coca Cola being initially translated as “bite the wax tadpole”).

Some common Western names have standard Chinese versions which have been shoe-horned into characters with reasonable meanings. But most westerners in China quickly adopt a Chinese name. This name takes on semi-official status, and mine was even used in places on official paperwork. Most people knew me by my Chinese name.

Living in the Texas border, one rarely sees Mexican/Latino immigrants fully anglicize their last name (i.e. going from Herrera to Smith), aside from a those who entered show business or similar fields. This was the case even in the early twentieth century. However, accent marks and double surnames often go away after the immigrant generation. Changing Múñoz to Munoz may not seem like a major shift to many Americans, but in Mexico or to Spanish speakers, it definitely represents a real name change.

First names are another story, and in places like South Texas or El Paso, it often seems that older Hispanics tend to be more likely to have Anglo-American given names than younger people. Many high school students will have Spanish given names. But many of the Hispanic teachers will have names like Hazel, Mabel, Spencer, and Raymond…its seems that after around 1980, it became less common to assimilate in this way. However, young people with Spanish given names are still quite likely to insist on more English sounding nicknames or given names (plenty of Jorges and Juans will insist on being George and Johnny).

One of the obits for Mario Cuomo says that when he was in law school in the fifties, one of his profs urged him to change his name because no-one would go to a lawyer whose name ended in “o.”

Just a historical note: very few, if any, names were changed at Ellis Island. Names were taken from the ship’s manifest; if there was any change, it was made before the ship docked.

The OP asked about 1950. Not only was there not pressure, it was actively discouraged. A cousin of my wife’s wanted to change their name because it was difficult to get pronounced correctly (there was a “c” in the middle that was pronounced “ts”. The judge (who had a long, hard to pronounce name) would not permit the name change. This happened between 1945 and 1950.

On the other hand, my father made an informal name change during the 30s because he was job hunting and thought it might help if he changed it from a Russian-Jewish name. It didn’t. But the name I use is not the name on my birth certificate.

Two folks I work with have within the last 15 years immigrated from China and adopted American first names, without changing their paperwork. They are known at work by the American names and write papers internal to the company by those names. Their licenses et cetera still have only the Chinese names. They say they did it to make it easier for others to work with them, and their explanation sounds more friendly and helpful and ambitious than it does resentful.

Muñoz doesn’t have a tilde. Stress on the last syllable and does not end in vowel, n or s = no tilde. Your tilde switches the stress to the syllable before last, in which case yes it would have one (so it’s ortographically correct but not the word you meant).

That’s actually standard within Hispanic culture: if your name has a “translated version” that the other person is less likely to mangle, you use it. My coworker David had a name whose spelling didn’t change between Euskadi and Scotland, but the pronunciation changed depending on what language we were speaking; Eneritz got shortened to Ene, Iratxe to Ira, to make them less confusing for our coworkers (most Spaniards know that TX is the same as the Spanish “ch”, but that TZ would cause problems as soon as you get more than 20km away of the Basque-speaking areas). My firstname has versions in French (I just use that) and English (but, alas, different dialects will pronounce the same spelling in different ways); I’d rather preserve the pronunciation than the spelling and many foreigners choke when trying to pronounce it “as written”, so if the spelling gives people trouble I ask people how would they transcribe it and use that as the written form.

It must be fun to say “… but I’m better known as _____ in China.”

The father of actress Rita Wilson was born Hassan Halilov Ibrahimoff. He changed his name name to Allan Wilson in 1960. It doesn’t get more generic than that, and he wasn’t even in the entertainment business.

I have a couple of questions about Spanish surnames beginning with “de” that I might as well ask here rather than starting another thread.

  • Are there any specific rules for capitalization? Some of my acquaintances capitalize the “de” (or “de la” or “del”) while others do not. Does it change with context? For example, one of my friends writes his name as de la Guardia, but when I just looked him up in the Panama phone book he is listed as De La Guardia, . The phone listings seem mostly to capitalize, but there are some names listed as “de XXX” or “De la XXX.”

-What happens when a woman marries a man with a surname beginning with “de”? Again I note the phone book lists several names in the form “De La Rosa, Berta Maria Bermudez de” or “De La Guardia, Melisa Isabel Garcia de Paredes de.” However, I can’t recall having seen a name written out in a newspaper or book in the format “Berta Maria Bermudez de De La Rosa” (with two “de’s” in a row). Have I just not noticed it, or is one of the “de’s” dropped in some cases? And what of the case of a single woman whose mother’s name begins with “de”? Can this easily be distinguished from a married woman appending her husband’s name using “de”?

I don’t think Americans have placed any pressure on immigrants to Anglicize their names… but immigrants may have felt pressure on their own, or may have just disliked having names that stood out.

Jews in particular have tended to Anglicize their family names (“Ytzakh Steinmetz” becoming “Ira Stone” or “Shlomo Rosenfeld” becoming “Stanley Rose”). Far fewer Irish, Italians or Poles felt any strong need or desire to do so.

Many people WANT to “fit in,” even if no one is leaning on them to do so.

You mean “accent,” not tilde. The word “tilde” describes the top part of the “ñ.”