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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
tanika April 24, 2009, 4:31 PM

my name is certainly one that falls into this category. today, my name isn’t nearly as uncommon. however “back in the day” i would have to repeat myself and repeat myself. i don’t know to what extent, if any, my name kept me from interviews or internships. but i can only imagine some of the scoured faces when the resume hit the desk. i was sensitive to my name and vowed that my child would have a “normal” name. like you, i don’t think a name should be about assimilation. but it would help to at least give the child a decent start b/c the preconceived notion does exist.

Nicole May 4, 2009, 11:35 PM

I have had this discussion many times with many people. However much we would all like to think it doesn’t happen, it does. Citing Barack and Oprah as examples of this no longer being an issue just doesn’t cut it. For every one Barack, there are 500 Barrys (which is what he went by for years, by the way). As the wife of a Southern man, I have seen my fair share of off-the-wall names. But it is not always “ethnic” names - although Shequanda and Shauntrell may be a bit limiting as far as career paths. But how about Sunshine? Or Bunny? Or Tallulah Does The Hula? That last one is an actual name of a little girl somewhere. A judge legally changed it against her parents wishes. It was deemed “humiliating”. How many Fortune 500 companies are headed up by someone with names like that? It is certainly not because the Williams and Johns and Donalds of the world are just all smarter. I am not knocking anyone’s name - ok, that Tallulah one is pretty bad - but people need to understand the realities. Just like tattoos or piercings, not everyone is open minded enough to not judge based on one thing, whether it is a name, religion, accent, race, lifestyle, body decoration, or whatever. And if you are not face to face with someone to counter their misconceptions, it is that much harder to get through.


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