A Malvika by any other name (preferably Monica)


I read this article on how stereotyped ethnic names can sadly be a barrier to workplace entry and was reminded of a course I designed earlier this year. It was for a client who was going to purchase the materials from me. When they reviewed the workbook, they asked me to change all the names to ones that were familiar to people in the Philippines because they were planning on running the program in Manila. So I changed the names to the names of people I worked with on a short stint in the Philippines.

When I resubmitted the materials to my client, they got back to me with a concern that the names would sound too foreign to learners in India because they planned to run the module in both countries. I suggested having two versions. They made noises about standardisation and asked me to incorporate ‘globally acceptable’ names. I tried to put up a fight but I had to finally give in. The final straw was when they told me that they were also planning to launch the program in the US and that the names would need to be globally acceptable to Indians, Americans, Filipinos and anyone else who’d happen to be around.

I changed the names in the text to ones that I kinda thought would be culture and country agnostic (although that’s a fairly erroneous line of thinking in a multicultural, globalised world)

Male names 

  • Omar
  • Jay
  • Ray

Female names

  • Alisha
  • Anita
  • Mira
  • Melita
  • Monica
  • Tanya
  • Teena
  • Tara

I couldn’t come up with any others. I ended up using Jay in four different texts. I was wondering if anyone else has faced a similar situation. Also what names would you add to this ‘globally acceptable’ list?

Image attribution: O inmost wind of living ecstasy… by haRee | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

9 Replies to “A Malvika by any other name (preferably Monica)”

  1. Very interesting. I suppose what you should look for is nicknames with a lot of possible full versions. Promising ones I’ve heard from Japan are Tom (Tomohisa, Tomoaki, etc.), Elly (Eri, Erika, etc.), and Ken (Kenji, Kenzo, Kentaro, etc.). Don’t know if there are names from many other languages that can be abbreviated with these. “Anna” is coincidentally a name in Japan and much of the West as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mark. I think those names would work well across some parts of Asia, Europe and possibly the Americas. I’m not so sure how familiar they’d be to folks in South Asia and the Middle East. For example, Anna is an honorific for an older man across much of central and southern India.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very true. I seem to be facing a similar situation in Dubai. While in a metropolitan city, there are still traces of collectivism. I had a client who preferred a westerner in training to me, since I was Indian. ha ha. It’s funny, however, this is how the cookie crumbles. Alright- here are some names I think could be neutral- Chris, Lorraine, Janice, Jennifer, Bill, Tom, Tess, Jessy, James, Mickey, Donald,… leave Trump.. he he 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Names is an interesting one, my natural inclination is to try and use a fairly wide spread of names from different origins (Top baby names websites seem useful here – Top baby names in UK, Top Urdu baby names, etc.), but I’ve seen projects where the brief suggests names that ‘don’t sound too British, etc’ – I suppose it’s determined by what kind of ‘image’ a product wants to project – and that goes straight in to the ELF/ Native vs non-native / cultural imperialism debates.

    One thing that I think is certain, is that it’s never a neutral apolitical decision.


  4. I have some finger puppets with my YLs (5/6-year-olds) this year and I opted to give them names from the Cambridge YLE exams which I thought would prove most problematic for my Spanish learners, so we have Bill the duck (they obviously don’t get the pun!), Kim the monkey and Tony the frog. I wonder whether Cambridge will change their names databse in the future to include less British-sounding names?
    (FYI, the names on the Cambridge Starters Wordlist which they are expected to recognise and write are: Alex, Ann, Anna, Ben, Bill, Dan, Grace, Jill, Kim, Lucy, May, Nick, Pat, Sam, Sue, Tom and Tony)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That name list is interesting…. some of those names don’t sound very common (at least for that age group). Have just had a look at top 50 names for UK and US for 2010 and 2000 and I can’t find Jill, Kim, May, Sue or Bill… I wonder how they choose them (am not suggesting they should only stick to names from their own age group).


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