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What do Kal Penn, Miley Cyrus and Charlie Sheen have in common? None of them go by their birth name.

Tuesday night in the ARCH building, about 20 students discussed their names’ meanings over samosas and tea at Namesake Chai, a discussion hosted by the Asian-American student group Penn Sangam.

Like many Asian Americans, other people, like celebrities, also choose to change their names, the students said.

“There’s different rules that apply in that industry that might force them [to change their name],” said Engineering and Wharton sophomore Ankur Goyal about celebrity name changes. “Like with Marilyn Monroe, that’s not particular to just Asian Americans.”

Namesake Chai elicited stories both humorous and personal.

“Ankur means the bud or a sprout of any plant. You know those little bean sprouts on Jimmy John sandwiches? That’s an ankur,” said Goyal.

College junior Trisha Sanghavi, a member of the Penn Sangam board, spoke of the identity issues that could arise from associating a name with multiple cultures.

“We talk about how people have two completely different names, like one is their ethnic Asian name, and the other is their more American name,” said Sanghavi.

Sanghavi said although her name — Trisha — isn’t uncommon in America, the English pronunciation differs from the Indian pronunciation. “It’s sometimes unsettling because I associate a different identity with the Americanized pronunciation of my name … and I know that’s true for a lot of people.”

For some, the cultural separation isn’t between one pronunciation or another, but between two entirely different names. Engineering freshman Dong Young Kim, who goes by David, chose his own “American” name when he was seven. “I remember having this conversation with my parents and they gave me the option of naming myself.” He added, “David was the most common name that I was exposed to. If I could go back, I would try to think of something original.”

Kim said he intends to give his children a westernized name in addition to a Korean name that is easy to pronounce and translate.

“If you’re living in a Western world, or what’s to become Western, I feel like Western names are important because if you’re doing business, it’s good to have an easier name to identify,” said Kim. “In a social setting it’s important to have an easier name, not even professionally, but when you’re growing up it makes other people comfortable.”

The students also discussed problems that could possibly arise in business, and even academics, from having an ethnic name.

“My sister’s friend’s father was applying for jobs, and it was pretty close to 9/11 at the time,” said Goyal. “He [used] two identical applications and identical resumes, but one had his true name and one had his Anglicized name.”

With the Anglicized name, he got called back, but using the other name, which was South Asian but sounded Middle Eastern, he wasn’t called back for an interview.

But Sanghavi believes regardless of whether or not a student goes by an Anglicized or ethnic name, his or her identity will still show.

“You can’t really hide your last name from an application. I think it’s something that can never really be hidden, especially if your name is something more indicative of your Asian-American heritage.”

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