Monday, April 20, 2015

What’s in a Name redux

NPR had a story this morning about a service in China that helps people who are coming to the US select a “US” name.  Many Americans have faced a tough-to-pronounce Chinese name and are told by the individual “don’t worry about it; just call me “Fred.”  I have blogged about that before.   But this service has a more strategic approach than “Fred.”  It helps Chinese from selecting stripper names like “Twinkle”, confusing names like “Eleven”, or unreal names like “Popeye.” 

One example stood out at me and I wanted to ask for opinions.  One somewhat overweight client selected the name “Phat.”  You might think that this is a poor choice.  We have historically looked at nicknames like “Fatty” as pejorative and derogatory.  And the service does warn against this name for that reason.  But they also explain an interesting framing effect that I had never thought of. 

If all you do is announce your name is “Phat”, you will probably be met with some muffled chuckles and an attempt to hide their amusement.  You become the silly, na├»ve, chump.  But if you frame it as a self-deprecating nickname (a quality that many people might not culturally associate with Chinese businessmen, but respect as a sign of self-confidence) and that in China people get nicknames that really describe them and this is his English example, there are some real advantages. 

I am not sure if I agree that this is a good approach in general. I can see it work in some contexts, but not in others.  And for a Chinese person just coming to the US, how can he know what context he will face?  But I can’t discard the idea completely because it does have a subtle resonance with me.  I want it to be a good idea.

Your Turn

So I need your input on this one.  What do you think?  Would this fail 99% of the time?  Succeed 99% of the time?