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This is especially common with the Chinese in America or Hong Kong.

  • Example 1: A Chinese person called Lu Xi comes to America and adopts the name Lucy.

  • Example 2: Or those named Mohammed from the Middle East and North Africa sometimes abbreviate their name to Moe while in America.

I’m wondering if there’s a word that describes exactly this. (Similar to how the word onomatopoeia does its work.)

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FWIW, a related concept is that of changing your name, not to English, but to another in your native language so as to preserve the correct pronunciation of your name among the people (foreigners, to you) among whom you will be living. The canonical example of this, for my money, is the “Wang” / “Wong” pair from Chinese. If your family name is “Wang” and you move to America, then you have a choice to make: keep the spelling unchanged (as computer pioneer An Wang did) and accept the fact that Americans are going to mispronounce your name, or change the spelling of your name to “Wong”. – Hexagon Tiling Feb 10 '12 at 22:19

Anglicisation (more commonly spelled as anglicization) is often used. It refers to "the process by which something or someone (usually a word) is made more English."

Some other processes possibly related to such name changes are

  • acculturation, "A process by which a person acquires the culture of the society that he/she inhabits", from acculturate, "To change one's culture based on the influence of another culture"
  • euphemization, using "a word or phrase to replace another with one that is considered less offensive or less vulgar than the word or phrase it replaces"
  • accommodation, a state of being fitted and adapted; "An adjustment of differences; state of agreement; reconciliation; settlement" (sense 5); "The application of a writer's language, on the ground of analogy, to something not originally referred to or intended" (sense 6)
  • normalization, "Any process that makes something more normal or regular, which typically means conforming to some regularity or rule, or returning from some state of abnormality"
  • romanisation, "Putting text into the Latin (Roman) alphabet"; may refer to simple transcription or transliteration of names
  • assimilation, "The adoption, by a minority group, of the customs and attitudes of the dominant culture"
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Hmm yes, but that's not quite satisfying. It isn't so much that the name "Lu Xi" is being anglicized by some "impartial authorities". Rather, the individual Lu Xi deliberately makes the choice of adopting the name Lucy while in America. Another Lu Xi elsewhere in America might instead adopt the name Jane. I should have added that this process also happens "in reverse": a Chinese American couple might give their child the AS name Robin and also the Chinese name Ruobin. – Alois Schicklgruber Feb 8 '12 at 22:24
@AloisSchicklgruber - See edit – jwpat7 Feb 8 '12 at 23:13
@Alois Schicklgruber: Your misgivings are misfounded - jwpat7's answer is exactly the correct one. Here are over 6000 instances of "anglicised his name", few of which will involve any authorities, impartial or otherwise. It's normally a voluntary personal choice. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '12 at 23:17
By the way, (using the tvtropes idiom) this practice is older than feudalism: for as far back as we have data of people's names, when said people moved to a different-language area, they adopted whatever local given name most closely matched theirs, for varying values of "matched". (And of course when someone wrote about them in a different language, their name would end up similarly translated.) – Marthaª Feb 8 '12 at 23:26

These are cases of deriving a new name homophonically (or homophonetically, if you want to mash up homophone and phonetic) -- taking advantage, as you say, of the fact that "Lu Xi" sounds approximately like "Lucy." (I knew a girl named "Ka-Lin" who became "Catalina" by the same method...)

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Catalina? I guess that's prettier than Tomcat or Apache ... – Robusto Feb 9 '12 at 2:45
@Robusto There's an island just off the coast called Santa Catalina that probably influenced her decision. – Gnawme Feb 9 '12 at 4:58
Yes that was the idea I was looking for! FumbleFingers above for example was missing the point---we may be "anglicizing" to get say the place name Munich, but this is different from Lu Xi deliberately exploiting the fact that there happens to be an English name (Lucy) that sounds very much like her real name. Ideally I would have liked to find a single word (like "onomatopoeia") but probably such a word does not exist. "Deriving a new name homophonically" (or maybe "homonymously"?) is just as well then. – Alois Schicklgruber Feb 9 '12 at 14:44

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