Why do Asian-Americans name their daughters these names?

I notice tons of young Asian women in the West have names that haven’t been popular with white or black people since the 1960s-70s. If you meet a Wendy, Kimberly, Tammy, Sharon/Cheryl or Elaine (they seem to love those names in particular) younger than 30 chances are VERY high they are of Asian descent. Like I’d be quite surprised if they weren’t even.

Why are they into old fashioned sounding names? Is it simply because a lot of grown women are named these names and they assume these names are just typical American names for any generation? Or is it just because those names in particular have sort of an Asian sound to them?

My dad’s wife is Filipino and her family have tons of teenage and 20 something girls with these particular names, I always thought it was kind of interesting.

Try having to spell your name a dozen times EVERY SINGLE TIME someone needs to write it down or type it in. You really don’t want that for your kid, so you give them something that everyone knows how to spell.

Perhaps the names are chosen because they are easy for the parents to pronounce?

For example, with the exception of Cheryl (the final L might be a bit tricky), the names the OP listed would be pretty easy for a Chinese person to say. There are no consonant clusters or sounds that are particularly foreign to Mandarin.

The most common GQ answer to these types of questions is: CONFIRMATION BIAS.

Another theory: could it be that the practice of naming kids after older family members is more prevalent among the Asian-American community that it is among Americans in general these days? Obviously Cheryl or Wendy don’t go back to the old country, but it could be that those were names first generation immigrants gave their kids when they were trying to assimilate, and now however many generations on the names are still in the family.

Here’s a post on a website that says that the most common names for Asian-American women are Tiffany, Carmen, Vivian, Michelle, Emily, Jessica, and Jenny:


Here’s one that says the most common names are Vivian and Amy:


Maybe you can all get together and agree on what the popular names are before we discuss this any further.

I was gonna mention Vivian too! Amy kind of surprises me, never really thought of it as particularly Asian at all.

Names cycle periodically, and they go in sub-groups as well as nationalities. So it’s not that surprising that any well-defined group would have its own set of names bubbling up to the top of the popularity pile, or that they might be different to another group.

For instance, my observations of a wealthy middle class school in Australia shows a high number of even more old-fashioned girls’ names than the OP … Alice, Madeline, Isabelle, Emily, Ava, Olivia … all common as mud. So we’re even more behind the times. Or, to put it another way, in another 40 years white and black folks in the US will start calling their girls Wendy again.

I recall a UK poster saying a few months’ back that if he saw that a man was named Winston he’d assume he was black. Obviously that hasn’t always been the case!

I think you have that backwards.

(Isn’t it Japanese that has an easy time with "R"s in words like samurrrai and karrrate, while the Chinese gave us Ling Ling and Lo Mein?) (But not Ling Ling Lo Mein?)

This is an artifact of transliteration convention, not anything to do with the pronunciation of the r* characters. It’s neither L nor R, but something in between.

I’m not really familiar with Chinese, but it almost certainly differs between dialects.

I live in Toronto and I know two Chinese Elaines and a Chinese Vivian, for what it’s worth. Another Chinese friend of mine named Helen (definitely an old-fashioned name) said she was assigned her English name from an English teacher back in China who picked names from a list in a not-very-modern textbook – hence the old-fashioned name. Of course, these are women in their 40s who were born in China, so I’m not sure how it relates to women younger than 30 who may have been born in America.

In my wife’s case, it wasn’t an issue since the pinyin for her Chinese name is also a woman’s nickname in English.

This post is dedicated to all my Chinese friends:

Edgar Allan Pe
Wasington Dy Sy
Christian Dee-Ong
Johnathan Livingston Sy
Chica Go
Earvin 'Magic’Tiongson

“Kim” seems like a win-win, if you’re Korean-American. It’s both a Korean and Anglo feminine first name.

Other than that, I haven’t noticed *particular *names for East Asian Americans, only that Chinese and Koreans European-ize a lot, whereas South Asians, Thai, Vietnamese and Africans I’ve worked with do not.

I’m in software, and among the (first generation) Chinese/Korean people I’ve worked with are Henry, George, David, John, Peter, Yu-pu, and Yi-Min. The South Asians I’ve worked with have been Amit, Nachiket, Ganesh, Ganeshan, Abdur, Gangadir, Girish, Vanitha, Sam, Sam, and Zubair. The African (Kenyan and Ethopian) guys I’ve worked with: Mukila and Mekonnen.

It is standard operating procedure for people from China who deal with the rest of the world to adopt a Western name for that purpose. (This one time I did a project with some Chinese people they felt I needed to do that, too, with my weird Russian/Dutch name.) So obviously they choose a name that’s common and easy in English = probably not too modern. I agree with the correlation point.

In AUS, it was common in the 80’s, and gradually dissappeared. Only one of the various kinds of Chinese-Australians I know still sticks with his fully-westernised given name. The kids— well, that’s very mixed. The Italians and Greeks I know have the option of using English versions of their given names, (“George”), and their home version isn’t the same as their offical version anyway. The Chinese kids I know are mostly called something like “Little Sister” at home.

I grew up in a city that is 10% Asian American, and I haven’t observed the phenomenon you are talking about. I was about to question your judgement until I noticed you mention Filipinos.

This is a Filipino thing, not a general Asian thing.

English names have been part of the name mix in the Philippines for a while, long enough to develop their own trends and conventions that don’t necessarily correspond with own. In other words, you aren’t seeing a bunch of people who just don’t know how to use English names. You are seeing people who have been using English names long enough to develop their own way of using them and their own generational trends.

Another factor is that some names are Spanish names rendered as English nicknames-- so Concepcion might go as “Connie”. It’s common to combine names (Maria Theresa, for example, may become Marites) or use invented names, which may also then be shortened to a nickname.

It’s not just a convenience thing. Chinese names rendered in English lose the characters associated with them, which is an integral part of the name. Without the characters, the name loses a layer of meaning and charm, and really isn’t quite the same thing.

It works in the opposite direction as well. English names don’t render well in Chinese, because the characters used to approximate the sounds have meanings of their own. So coming up with something that sounds kind of like your name often means awkwardly combining a lot of random words that end up forming a nonsense phrase. There are some standard renderings for common names chosen to not be terrible, but they aren’t usually great.

So foreigner living in China will pick up a Chinese name, and this will have semi-official status and be used on forms and the like. Mine was even used on some of my immigration forms.

I’ve noticed something close to this. My husband is Chinese, and his parents and the parents of his cousins were the immigrants. Nearly all the cousins have names that were more common in their parents’ generation- and the others have nicknames (Jimmy, not James). After noticing this among my in-laws, I started to pay attention and realized it wasn’t restricted to them. I suspect that the parents didn’t exactly name the kids “after” their acquaintances , but these were the names they knew and they wouldn’t necessarily know that names go in and out of style. (Or that Jimmy is usually a nickname for James)

The names I’ve mostly noticed among Chinese women and girls (by which I mean from China, not of Chinese heritage) are names that probably are also names in China, like Cherry, Rose, Lily and other flower names, plus names that sound like a girl from a sitcom set in an eighties high school in California - Candy/Candi is pretty common. Boys usually have an old-fashioned English name like Henry or George or sometimes, especially for youngsters, a name they clearly picked while studying American history in their English classes - quite a lot of Lincolns and Washingtons and even Coolidges.

These are kids and young adults who mostly picked their own English names or decided they liked the one assigned them by a teacher; they weren’t named by their parents.

Mei is an exception that generally stays the same.

It’s only really Chinese people that choose new Western names, IME (I’m including Chinese Singaporeans, etc, in that). Other SE Asian people might choose an Anglo version of their name but more often will use their original name, sometimes slightly Westernised.

Phillipinos have a completely different naming tradition anyway, with a “family name” (my step-mum is Ding to her family and my stepsister is Yogi) that is often completely different to their given name, which is usually a Spanish name because of previous colonisation and current Catholicism.

Also the tonal thing. Try as hard as we might, speakers of non-tonal languages will not get the tone right most of the time when using a Chinese person’s name while speaking in English. I know this is a reason that some Chinese people, at least, use Western names in the West because several Chinese people I know have told me so.