The adoption of an “English” name in EFL situations seems quite common in the countries in which I’ve worked (China, Korea and Taiwan) and I suspect it occurs throughout other Asian countries as well. The names are generally chosen by the students with either parental or teacher assistance if required.
For students, they seem to enjoy having such a name – it’s a bit like their time in SL anyway – and they often choose a person or concept they relate to personally. Examples include musicians, movie stars, sports heroes, words like ‘king’, and even objects, like ‘yo-yo’.
For us teachers, it makes it much easier to say and recall their names. If you’ve ever tried pronouncing 700 or more Korean or Chinese names with the correct tonal inflections, you will understand how difficult it is. Also since you only see them once a week for less than an hour, it becomes extremely valuable for communication if you can use more familiar names. I suspect they prefer to be called by some name rather than a mispronounced one or just “hey you”.
I also feel that it adds a little to their cultural experience of learning English. None of them would consider their English name as having any official status. They seem to consider it more like a nickname instead, or even just a nickname for English class.
Still, I would never try ascribing them new identities, as I feel that this COULD be harmful to their developing sense of self. It is enough to assume other characters in the context of a role-play or drama where the individual being represented is clearly not themselves. Going further might be psychologically damaging.
As an aside, I chose a Chinese name before I first started teaching in Taiwan and, when asked, I’m happy to share it with students and have them call me “Teacher Kuang” instead of “Teacher Greg”. That way, it’s more of a two-way street.
Posted 14th June at http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/i-is-for-identity-2/#comment-1318