Western name, Asian text: Uptake of Sinicized Western Personal Names in Hong Kong

Author: Jacqueline Militello (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong and King’s College London, U.K.)
Speaker: Jacqueline Militello
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Professionals often exchange business cards when meeting for the first time. In Hong Kong, often one side of the card displays English, and the other Chinese, either traditional or simplified characters. For professionals without a Chinese surname and given name, a name is constructed, with phonetic, semantic, or a blended transliteration. What do Chinese speakers think of the varied Sinicized names of non-Chinese speakers? How do they construe the identities based on these constructed names and what indexicalities are invoked?

While research has examined assigned or selected English names in Hong Kong (Li, 1997) and management studies have examined the strategic choices that are made in selecting Chinese names for Western corporate brands (Schmitt & Zhang, 2012), the area of Chinese name selection in personal self-presentation and self-branding is unexamined.

This paper, which is part of a larger project that looks at professional self-presentation and identity construal in elite professional networking contexts in Hong Kong, examines both the processes by which professionals acquire Sinicized names and how these names are then perceived. For the former, professionals and HR representatives were interviewed to ascertain involvement, agency, and policies. For the latter, Chinese-speaking professionals (of various dialects) were interviewed and asked to comment on the Sinicized names of various professionals both whom they had and had not personally met.


Li, D. C. (1997). Borrowed identity: Signaling involvement with a Western name. Journal of Pragmatics, 28(4), 489-513.

Schmitt, B., & Zhang, S. (2012). Selecting the right brand name: An examination of tacit and explicit linguistic knowledge in name translations. Journal of Brand Management, 19(8), 655-665.

Keywords: Indexicality, identity, names, Chinese