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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Defining and negotiating identity and belonging : ethnic name change and maintenance among first-generation Chinese immigrants Liao, Wenting


The purpose of this grounded theory study was to examine the little researched sociopsychological process behind ethnic name change and maintenance in cross-cultural transitions, including precipitating contexts, events, interpretations and motivations that led to the decision to change or maintain ethnic names, the internal and external experiences pertinent to ethnic name change and maintenance, the patterns and strategies to cope with acculturative stress and perceived barriers in respect to changing and maintaining ethnic names, and the impacts of ethnic name change and maintenance on immigrants’ lives. In order to answer these research questions, ten participants comprising first-generation Chinese immigrants from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, including two males and eight females ranging in age between 19 and 45, were interviewed. The findings showed that although many ethnic Chinese felt compelled to adopt western names as a way of adapting to the host society due to feelings of insecurity over their ethnic identities, ethnic name change may not guarantee success in acculturation. In contrast, one’s self-efficacy was much more essential in delivering desired outcomes and coping with acculturative stress. However, ethnic name change likely exerts certain influences on one’s life by affecting the perceptions of an individual by themselves and by others. Based on the differences in the patterns and strategies to cope with acculturative stress between ethnic name changers and non-changers, three styles of defining and negotiating identity and belonging were proposed: enmeshed style, restricted style, and open style. Those who used the open style seemed to be more likely to achieve cultural integration by setting an open, dynamic yet clearly defined cultural boundary. Accordingly, the study proposed a variety of essential components to facilitate acculturation and consolidate cultural identity.

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