Anglicising foreign students’ names ‘could reduce bias’

Research suggests that professors are more likely to respond to Chinese students with anglicised names  

January 24, 2017
hidden students hong kong
Source: Alamy
Changing perceptions: in one experiment, name preference depended on undergraduates’ perceptions of how people should adapt when they move from one cultural setting to another

Should students and academics consider changing their name when they study and work in countries with a different language from their homeland? And are there any benefits from adopting a second name?

A study, “‘Welcome to the U.S.’ but ‘change your name’? Anglo names and discrimination”, suggests that anglicising a name could reduce the likelihood of bias against foreigners.

In one experiment, an email from a Chinese student requesting a meeting about graduate training was sent to 419 white American professors from leading US universities with the name of the sender varying between Xian and Alex.

Use of the Chinese name led to fewer responses. The likelihood of an agreement to meet with the student was also increased when the name Alex was used, but only among associate professors, who had a higher overall tendency to agree to meet the students.

PhD student Xian Zhao and university distinguished professor Monica Biernat, both at the University of Kansas and authors of the paper, suggested that full professors may be less concerned about the impact of graduate students on their careers and therefore also less likely to differentiate among student requests.

In a second experiment, designed to examine how beliefs about multiculturalism impact name preferences, the recording of a lecture by an international graduate student was presented to 185 white undergraduates with the name of the lecturer varying between Jian and John.

Participants were informed that the university had been working on screening and selecting PhD students for a teaching job and were led to believe that their evaluations would partially affect whether a particular graduate student was hired.

They were asked to state the likelihood of taking the prospective instructor’s class, indicate whether they would recommend hiring the lecturer and evaluate the lecturer and their content on 12 measures, such as adaptation to American culture, overall effectiveness of explanations, enthusiasm and whether it was boring or hard to understand.

The name preference in this case depended on the undergraduates’ perceptions of how people should culturally and psychologically change as they move from one cultural setting to another; while the Western name was preferred among those found to be “high in assimilationist and low in multicultural ideologies”, the opposite was true for those low in assimilationist and high in multicultural ideologies.

The paper defines assimilation ideology as the belief that a society would benefit from the abandonment of the original culture of different ethnocultural groups, and that minority groups should assimilate to the mainstream culture of the majority group.

Meanwhile, multicultural ideology refers to support for a culturally diverse society in which different ethnocultural groups preserve their original cultures.

The respondents were also more likely to correctly recall the lecturer’s name when it was anglicised, with 91 per cent of participants remembering the new name compared with 82 per cent for the original Chinese name.

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