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Detailed Description

Theoretical Frame

First names are part of our social identity. They indicate our belonging to social groups, designate membership boundaries symbolically and thus define relationships of inclusion and exclusion. Due to processes of stereotyping, we therefore do not only often associate a specific gender, social class or generational belonging with a given first name; we also link a particular national or ethnic affiliation to it, without knowing the person in question. This classification then influences our interaction with this person which, in turn, affects his or her identity.

Persons who migrate to another country and have children there are often confronted with an emotional dilemma when choosing a first name for their new-born. If they select a name which is common in their country of origin, this can express an emotional bond to that country. At the same, though, it might lead to the child’s discrimination due to the name’s foreignness and existing stereotypes. This can lead to emotional strains. If they instead select a name which is common in the host society, this can signify an emotional bond to the host country and, thus, help to avoid discrimination. However, this choice might lead to exclusion from their own group of origin, as well as to feelings of alienation towards their own children.

Research Question

Based on the example of first name giving, we analyse the emotional conflicts involved in processes of disembedding and relocating migrants. The following questions play an important role: Which first names are given by migrants of a different cultural origin who came to Germany? Which factors influence the parents’ decision? Which role do affective ties with the country of origin, feelings of exclusion or, respectively, of acceptance within the host society play? Do different migrant groups vary in this respect? And how do migrants try to master these dilemmas?

Empirical Implementation

We will answer these questions via a combination of two different methodological approaches. First, we will analyse data from the Socio-Economic panel (SOEP), especially the migrant sample of 2013. We will assign the first names of children with a migration background from different countries of origin, who are born in Germany, to different categories (first names that are typical in the country of origin vs. first names common in the host country vs. hybrid first names vs. first names that are neither common in the host country, nor in the country of origin, but are typical for another country). We will then analyse which factors influence the choice of first names. Quantitative analyses only shed little light, however, on concrete motives, negotiation processes and emotional dilemmas some families are faced with when choosing a first name for their child. Therefore, we will secondly conduct semi-structured interviews with about 40 families, in order to reconstruct processes of negotiation, belonging, distinction and possible personal and intra-familial conflicts. The close interrelatedness between both methodological approaches is of particular importance. On the one hand, the selection of families to be interviewed will be based on those criteria which show up as relevant in the quantitative analysis and will be drawn from the SOEP sample. On the other hand, we will also analyse whether and how the quantitative results need to be interpreted alternatively when taking the qualitative findings into account.

Relevant Literature

Gerhards, J.; Hans, S. (2009). From Hasan to Herbert: Name Giving Patterns of Immigrant Parents between Acculturation and Ethnic Maintenance. In: American Journal of Sociology 114 (4): 1102-1128.

Gerhards, J. (2005): The Name Game. Cultural Modernization and First Names. New Brunswick, London: Transaction Publishers.

Khosravi, S. (2012): White Masks/Muslim Names: Immigrants and Name-Changing in Sweden. In: Race & Class 53 (3): 65-80.

Lieberson, S.; Bell E. (1992): Children’s First Names. An Empirical Study of Social Taste. In: American Journal of Sociology 98: 511-554.

Lieberson, S.; Mikelson, K. (1995): Distinctive African American Names: An Experimental, Historical, and Linguistic Analysis of Innovation. In: American Sociological Review 60: 928-946.

Sue, C.; Telles, E. (2007): Assimilation and Gender in Naming. In: American Journal of Sociology 112 (5): 1383-1415.