Name Americanization: Economic Payoff vs Cultural Identity

January 25, 2019

“Americanization” is a process by which immigrants to the United States attempt to integrate with the local culture. In many cases, immigrants have chosen to “Americanize” their birth names to ones that are more traditionally or popularly American, such as changing “Hans”, “Johan”, and “Ivan” to the more American name “John”. Often, this was done with the intention of making it easier to succeed economically, as anti-immigrant economic bias has existed in the United States since its inception.

But what are the economic rewards to name Americanization? A study conducted by a team of researchers based in the University of Chicago attempted to answer that question. They examined the economic gains of immigrants from the early twentieth century and found that those immigrants who Americanized their names did find greater economic rewards in comparison to similar immigrants who kept their original names. These rewards were often greatest among those who faced the most barriers to entry, and it was stressed that name Americanization was often a signal that immigrants were actively attempting to full integrate into American culture.

But is name Americanization worth it? Names are often major links to our ethnic identities, and America is a country of immigrants. While the economic rewards were real in the early twentieth century, it is potentially more personally beneficial to keep our birth names and maintain our connections to our ancestral homes. It is a decision that every person must make for themselves.

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Citation: Biavaschi, C., Giulietti, C., & Siddique, Z. (2017). The Economic Payoff of Name Americanization. Journal of Labor Economics, 35, 1089–1116.

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