Names and Selves: Transnational Identities and Self-Presentation among Elite Chinese International Students

Jun Fang*, Gary Alan Fine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

What accounts for name choices in a transnational context? What does the choice of ethnic or English names reveal about global identities and the desire to fit into a new culture? Drawing on the sociology of culture and migration, we examine the intersection of naming, assimilation, and self-presentation in light of international student mobility. Based on 25 semi-structured interviews with mainland Chinese students enrolled in an elite Midwestern university, we find that these students make name choices by engaging in both transnational processes and situated practices. First, Chinese international students negotiate between multiple names to deal with ethnic distinctions. While ethnic names can signal distance from other ethnic communities, they also distinguish individuals from others. For these students, names are multi-layered and temporal: their name choices evolve throughout school lives, shaped by power relations in American cultural contexts and channeled by images of their home country. Second, multiple names allow these students to practice situated performance, incorporating the reflective self, the distinctive self, and the imagined self. We address “cross-cultural naming” that accounts for identity in transnational social spaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-448
Number of pages22
JournalQualitative Sociology
Volume43
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

Keywords

  • Assimilation
  • China
  • Identity
  • International students
  • Naming
  • Transnationalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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