Kenji or Kenneth? Pearl Harbor and Japanese-American Assimilation

50 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2018 Last revised: 4 Mar 2021

See all articles by Martin Hugo Saavedra

Martin Hugo Saavedra

Rutgers University; Oberlin College - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 23, 2018


Do immigrants assimilate in response to an exogenous shock in anti-immigrant sentiment? This paper investigates this question by examining the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a natural experiment. I generate an index for the Americanization of first names from the 1900-1930 censuses and merge this index with records from the universe of Japanese-American internees during WW2. Regression discontinuity in day-of-birth estimates suggest that Japanese Americans born in the days after Pearl Harbor were more likely to have an Americanized first name relative to children born in the days before December 7th, 1941. There is no discontinuity in socioeconomic variables, and a within-family analysis yields similar results.

Keywords: assimilation, naming practices, Japanese Americans, internment camps, Pearl Harbor

JEL Classification: J15, N12, Z13

Suggested Citation

Saavedra, Martin Hugo, Kenji or Kenneth? Pearl Harbor and Japanese-American Assimilation (July 23, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Martin Hugo Saavedra (Contact Author)

Rutgers University ( email )

New Brunswick, NJ
United States

Oberlin College - Department of Economics ( email )

Oberlin, OH 44074
United States


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