Adopting American Names in Offshore Teams – Dos and Don’ts

As a part of their client engagement contract, some offshore processes require their employees to adopt an American name. While a majority of processes that require this, in Authentic Journeys’ experience, are undertaking some kind of customer service call process, not all are in this category. Whereas the call center customer experience is very short term (maybe only 5 minutes with one person), some Indian professionals working in other processes that require an ongoing relationship with the same person over a number of days or months may also adapt American names. While I understand adapting an American name is a controversial topic, I am not here to share my views on this, but rather pose tips on how to pick and/or use American names in the right cultural context. 

Introduce Yourself With a First Name AND a Last Name  
In some parts of India, especially, at least, in Kerala, it’s common for people to use only their given name when introducing themselves, even in professional situations. As it was said to me by an Indian who has lived for two decades in the US, “I always know when a customer service agent is from India if he or she introduces him or herself with only a first name. The only people who get away with that in the U.S. are Madonna or Cher!” I found that to be a very apt comparison. While most larger companies like Citibank or JP Morgan avoid this, smaller outfits that do not understand American culture through the American lens would miss this. 

Quick Fix:
When answering the phone, the representative should answer with their full name, something like, “Good day, Sir, you have reached XYZ company. I am Holly Merckel. How may I help you today?” 

Assure full names are used in phone calls and also in emails as well; both in email introductions and signing off of emails. Using full names (first and last) is considered more professional, where as using only the first name is considered more causal. 

Avoid Using Initials 
In South India the cultural naming convention uses initials either before or after the name. Initials stand for the last name/family name/surname. 

Some examples would be: 
  • E. Ramaswami (For Eashwar Ramaswami, where Ramaswami is the given name)
  • Paul V (For Paul Vinod, where Paul is the given name) 

Quick Fixes
  • When assigning an American name, make sure there is both a full first and last name. Initials should not be given as a last name.
  • Instruct employees to always use their entire first and last name in greetings and email signatures. For instance, if a person is assigned the American pseudo-name “Derek Underwood,” they should never, under any circumstances write U. Derek or Derek U. 

Do Not Assign Names of Famous People
Here, I must refer to one of my favorite movies, Office Space, where someone in the office was named Michael Bolton (also the name of a famous singer). Because he was named Michael Bolton, no one took him seriously and people always teased him about his name. 



While it may seem fun or flattering to adapt or adopt a name of a famous person, famous movie character or singer, it may impact business as people will associate that name with other things and probably not the work at hand that needs to get done. To put this in perspective, how about in India if a colleague in your office were named Shah Rukh Khan, Narendra Modi, Mamoooty, or Veerapan? Of course, they would get questioned or teased from time to time! 

So, that being said, avoid names like Frank Underwood (TV character’s name), Ted Danson (actor), Madonna (even if a last name is used with it!), Donald Trump, or Charles Manson (a murderer!). To illustrate this point, there was an episode of a comedy show called Seinfeld, where Elaine dates a man named Joel Rifkin. As Joel Rifkin is the name of a serial killer, she urges him to change his name because everyone looks at him funny and has a bad impression of him once they hear his name. 

Quick Fix
It’s Google to the rescue! Google the name. If the name has a profile of a Hollywood actor or other famous or infamous personality attached to it, chose a different name. If you still aren’t sure, and have American colleagues in the US, ask them. They can tell you right off the bat if a name sounds like a name of a famous person. 

How to Pick a Good Name
Again, Google to the rescue! We can type in “common first names in the U.S.” or “common last names in the U.S.” and see what happens. Wikipedia also has some pages listing common first names and also another page listing common surnames. If you don’t know how to pronounce them or want to make sure you are pronouncing a name in an American accent, ask your US counterparts for help.

Use Names Consistently 
While using a pseudonym on its own is confusing enough, assure that the name you use with clients is:

  • Always used in all company emails, even internallyProblem: Sometimes for internal emails the Indian name may be used. Remember internal emails can be sent out of the team, sometimes to the US customer or client depending on your process. So, keeping the name the same everywhere will minimize confusion.
  • Spelled the same way everywhereSometimes Indian names are hard to spell the same way all the time, like Lakshmi can also be spelled as Laxmi. While the person themselves may always spell their name as Lakshmi, her colleagues may spell it as Laxmi. So, when adapting American names, this can happen and cause confusion. For instance, let’s say a name with double spellings is used like Tomas, do not then the next day spell this as Thomas. In fact, I believe these two spellings represent two totally different cultural or ethnic groups, as well!
  • Make sure your assigned email ID has your American name and not Indian nameWhile you may not be in charge of assigning yourself an email ID, the admin should assign you an email ID that reflects your American name, not your Indian name. For instance, if your Indian name is Lakshmi Krishna, and your American name at work is Cindy Yarmouth, your email ID should be cindy.yarmouth@company.com, and not Lakshmi.krishna@company.com.

Final Words
While the trend is moving away from adapting American names, this practice is still being done in some companies in India. The tips in this article will help you culturally adapt and use the American name in the appropriate, customer friendly way. 

Jennifer Kumar, author of this article is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys helping India-based teams prepare for working with Americans across borders on virtual, distributed and offshore processes. She has worked with over 2,500 Indian professionals in over 40 companies in a wide range of client-facing process. Contact us for more information or to book your program today! 

Related Posts: 
How to use titles - Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr.  

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