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Your Name Could Affect Your Job

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Danielle Hoston: When I graduated from UCLA many moons ago, I was just like any other recent college graduate: young, eager, and ready to FINALLY make some money. I graduated high school when I was 16 years old and had completed my BA degree in Communications with a Specialization in Business Administration. I had worked full-time during high school, throughout college, and had more work experience than most of my peers. I practiced my interview techniques, perfected my resume, and applied to a multitude of jobs. I thought I would qualify for almost any job I applied to. I was wrong.

woman at a job interview

It didn't take long to realize that my friends were getting hired and my phone wasn't ringing. I asked one of my best friends (who worked in Human Resources) to review my resume and help me figure out what the problem was. She quickly glanced over it and said, "It's perfect. You should use your middle name instead of your first name though." It turned out that she was right. I changed the name on the resume from "Danisha" to "Danielle" and applied to five jobs the next day. Three short days later, I was hired to my first job in commercial real estate as a Corporate Accountant and my career began.

Let's be honest ... names are important. We change our names when we get married in order to indicate the change in our identity and promptly change them back if the marriage should fail. We spend a great deal of time as mothers deciding on our unborn children's names and the dissecting the meanings behind them. When it comes to our careers, we take a considerable amount of time articulating our work experience, describing our education, and making sure the format of our resume is as professional as possible. In the process, however, we commonly overlook the one thing that is beyond our control but might; in fact, send the most overwhelming message of all about us: our name.

"Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson." - Mark Twain

In the age of Barack Hussein Obama, it's pretty clear that we have made a lot of headway in the field of getting past the judgment of names. However, the controversy over Barack's middle name during the election indicates that we may not have come as far as we think. If the judgment remains, I can't help but worry about those of us that are well qualified but are getting overlooked in the hiring process because of what our names seem to signify about our racial background, our religious beliefs, and potentially our ability to perform the job required.

I have always loved my "unique" name, but now I wonder... as the job market grows more competitive, are unique names even harder to get a job with?

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56 comments so far | Post a comment now
doubt it April 20, 2009, 2:20 PM

I worked with a lot of people with really crazy hard to pronounce names. I am calling hooey on this.

Lyris April 20, 2009, 2:33 PM

I am not surprised by this at all. I was very careful when I named my children.

Jerwayne April 20, 2009, 3:00 PM

To doubt it, don’t be naive to people doing the hiring. I used to do the hiring at my company and review all the resumes that would come in. Some of the people I would work with would look at me like I was crazy based on some of the people I wanted to bring in to interview based 100% off of their name. If a name sounded too ethnic or too foreign they were ready to dismiss them without talking to them.

A name can be the biggest hinderance on getting a foot in the door. Same as some of the clients I would work with who would ask to work with someone else without having heard a word from me because of my name.

I’ve switched now to using the name Jay in a lot of professional dealings at times now.

Joanne April 20, 2009, 4:44 PM

I am not surprised because name identification has been going on for decades.

Fail April 20, 2009, 5:11 PM

I think this article doesn’t make sense. Our Prresident is named Obama and the queen of all media is named Oprah. I rest my case.

Melissalynn April 20, 2009, 5:27 PM

I was 10 years old before I found out that my dad went by his middle name because he couldn’t stand his first name. So when my husband and I choose somewhat unique names for our boys we gave all of them a good commonly accepted middle name for this very reason. We figured if they grew up to dislike their first name they could use their middle one.

Brandon  April 20, 2009, 5:47 PM

Thank God for my mom becuase my dad was going to name me U.W after him and his dad. I think name is very important and this article should really be sent out around the black community.

Prince April 20, 2009, 6:08 PM

You are spot on with this article. This ‘name phenomenon’ cuts both ways though. When I wrapped up grad school in 2002, I struggled with getting call backs for interviews. I swapped my first and middle name (Prince & Albert) and like you, the phone began to ring. Now that I’m deep into my career (outside sales), my name is a huge advantage. In an industry where customers rememebring you and your product can be difficult, my name has been a useful tool that I’m not shy about leveraging.

Jasmine W April 20, 2009, 7:06 PM

I can’t begin to tell the horror stories of my birth given name, Ta’Quita. (pronounced- Ty-Keeta) The name haunted me during adolescence in school, applying for jobs and all other facets of my life. On the first day of class(college & highschool) I would have anxiety attacks because it never failed that a teacher would call my name and say, “Taqueeda, Taqueeda are you here?” I would never say I was present and wait till the end of class to tell them to please use my middle name, Jasmine. October 15, 2008 I finally went to the County Clerk and had my name legally changed to Jasmine. It was the most exhilarating moment in my life. Just recently I had to complete a background check and my OLD first name appeared on my credit report and the look I got from the employer definately made me happy to know that I made the Right choice. Please be careful when naming your children!

tanyetta April 20, 2009, 8:25 PM

I hope not!

J April 20, 2009, 8:31 PM

This is such a good topic, I’m glad you wrote about it. I have numerous relatives that changed their names from their given, “ethnic” names to the English equivalent or to another more common American name. And while this was more common in the era in which my parents and grandparents grew up, I think it’s still very true today that people judge based on names.

Having these family examples, plus having friends in the same boat as you, has made me very conscious as a hiring manager to put aside people’s names when reviewing their resumes and to focus solely on their achievements.

Selene April 20, 2009, 10:52 PM

Interesting. Do you think my name is too unique? I never even thought about this. My middle name is Marie.

Contessa Daleece  April 21, 2009, 10:18 AM

I think this is a very good article. One of my high school teachers once told me that if your name has more than eight letters and sounds ethnic, then most employers wont hire you based on that alone. I love that my name is unique. It has never hindered me; most people think that it is interesting and cool. If nothing else it is a discussion starter.

Nimat Jones  April 21, 2009, 1:22 PM

My name is Nimat…a very “ethnic” name. Most people have a hard time pronouncing it and always ask, What does it mean? I was bothered by my name when I was younger because no could pronounce it. Since I don’t have a middle name, I’d tell people my name was ‘Nicole’. Now, I like unique or “ethnic” names and I wonder should we assimilate to mainstream society by changing our names. We are moving into a global society and we must be the change if we want it to happen. However, many people are close-minded, so I wonder how many times my resume has been trashed just based on my name. I am going to experiment the next time I apply for a job and change my first name to Nicole. But, what do I tell them after I am hired?

Danielle Hoston April 21, 2009, 3:41 PM

Thanks for sharing Nimat… If you don’t want to use your middle name, you can always use an initial and just take the whole name out of the equation. If you wanted to use Nicole, you might just say it’s a nickname once you’re hired. For the record, I’m not recommending “assimilating” and by no means am I saying that using an alternate name is the cure-all for this issue but it can at least potentially get you past the first barrier. It did for me…. ;-)

Stacey April 21, 2009, 5:37 PM

I agree that parents need to think hard about the names they pick for their kids and that people will judge based on a name. Honestly, though I don’t know if I would want to work for a place that passed up my resume just because of my name.

Rotta April 21, 2009, 5:40 PM

Unfortunately “unique” and ethnic names are a hindrance in terms of employment. If the names are too odd or too different I believe that they raise concerns linked tp peoples underlying prejudice of anything that is different or out of the prevalent norm!

My name has caused confusion many a times, its an eastern African name pronounced Rotta, however in order to make it easier for me I have since my teens used Ruth instead of Rotta. Which essentially is a shame, because I belive that in some way, whether its conscious or unconscious it tampers with your sense of identity, why is my name not gooed enough as it is??? I think its important to embrace ethnic and “unique” names as they carry a lot of siginificance and moreover affinity to certain cultures or nations….however I also understand the benefits of having a mainstream accepted name…its not an easy topic, which makes it more so important. I must say though that in the last couple of years I have increasingly started to introduce myself as Rotta, as I this is the name I most identify with! Great Topic!!!

Ladey Keyoundra April 21, 2009, 6:38 PM

I have to saying growing up with a very unique name has not been so pleasent. My name is Ladey (pronounced Lady…yes Lady)…My middle name doesn’t help either because it’s Keyoundra and growing up i always used my full name Ladey Keyoundra…I have a disadvantage and I blame my parents for giving me such a ridiculous name that they probably thought was too cool back in the mid 80s :( Parents please think twice before giving your kids these unique names!!!

Dana April 21, 2009, 7:50 PM

This is an interesting topic. I have a pretty normal name but both my parents use their middle names rather than first (no wonder mine is simple). Also, one of my best friends had a very unusual name that made her extremely self conscious and she just flat out didn’t like it for many good reasons. I don’t think anyone judged her based on ethnic stereotypes, but since it was a name meant to be pronounced in another language, it sounded like another English word and she was teased growing up. In college no one could figure out how to spell it or pronounce it. Even though they were not judgmental, it was just a hassle for her. She HATED it when applying for jobs out of college and when she was able to become a citizen a few years ago she changed it to a simpler name she LOVES. While at first I thought she should “keep it real,” after seeing how happy she was with her new name and the confidence it gave her when meeting new people I now see her point and support the decision fully!

I think it’s important to remember that the issues Danielle and many other commenters are referring to happen most when meeting people and making first impressions. I work with Danielle currently, but would I have applied for a job with Danisha? Who knows. Of course now we all know Oprah, but I wonder how many times she cursed her name growing up when her name wasn’t as easy to pronounce (or understand) as Lisa or Kate? I feel that names don’t make a difference once you know the person, just before and during the introduction, or if you’re a name on a piece of paper waiting to be given the same chances and opportunities as the next person.

Leslie April 21, 2009, 10:26 PM

Having worked as a Recruiter at several large corporations, including 2 of the top 25 largest companies in the world, I can tell you that this goes on ALL the time. It’s not so much that a unique name will hurt you, as much as what impression that name gives someone who has never seen you.

I, as many Recruiters, decided long ago to stop trying to imagine what people look like based on their name, or how they sound on the phone. It’s wrong almost 100% of the time.

However, like someone posted above, I have had to fight to get candidates in front of hiring managers, and the fight is based on nothing more than their name.

In the case of an obviously foriegn name, I’ve had hiring managers ask me to call the person back to “make sure I can understand what they are saying”. This is, of course, because there are no other options for them to consider. We will have already interviewed all the Bob’s, Bill’s, Joe’s, etc.

If I hand 5 resumes to a hiring manager, and in the bunch there is a Shaneequa, I can almost guarantee she won’t be picked.

Comparing this to celebrity names like Oprah (or Barack) is not an accurate comparison. In fact, having an odd name when you’re famous makes you stand out, and people will remember you. Your name could be part of how they market you..say, for a talk show.

It’s a shame, but it is a fact, and it’s been going on for a long time. It happens all day, every day, and people from all walks of life make decisions to get names that “fit in” and don’t stand out. I’ve worked with a guy from China named “Johnny” (his real first name is something I couldn’t begin to pronounce), and a guy from India we called “Bobby” (his real first name was like 20 letters long). I have a friend named Takisha who goes by her middle name, Jane. She, like Danisha, learned very quickly that if she wanted to get calls back, “Takisha” wasn’t going to cut it.

An important thing to remember is that once you get the job, you can use whatever name you want.

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