Home Career Services The name game

The name game


In the barrage of commercials related to the presidential election, there was one in particular, which piqued my interest. In this commercial the speaker talked about “our children” being saddled with debt. I began to think about how much I would not want my children to be laden with debt. Most parents or people desiring to have children want to position their children for success. So they do things like set up college funds, enroll the children in dance lessons and social clubs, send them to private schools, etc. I also think it is appropriate to add providing their child with a strong, well thought out name, to the aforementioned list.

While discussing our future plans to have a child, my wife and I settled on four, very meaningful, names. After coming up with the names, I read an article posted on the CBS News website that discusses ethnic sounding names being used as criteria to discriminate against candidates in the hiring process. The article states, “After responding to 1,300 classified ads with dummy resumes, the authors found black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get a callback than white-sounding names with comparable resumes candidates.”

Upon conducting some research I found members of various ethnic groups often combated name discrimination by Anglicizing their names. For example, Charles Steinweg, a famous piano maker born in Germany, changed his last name to Steinway. This beckoned the question, what is the real impetus behind people in the United States changing their name? In the case of Charles Steinway, he changed his name partially because English instruments were perceived to be superior. It is the perception of quality ascribed to a particular culture or ethnic group that often motivates name changes. This gave way to a new question, what types of qualities are associated with non-Anglo-Saxon names? For example, a potential employer may associate Tyrone Williams with a stereotype, assume Kwabena Boateng does not speak English well, and conclude that Charles Ford is a master of the English language and a hard worker. If this is true, would the names chosen by my wife and I place our children at a disadvantage in the work place? I thought it over and decided we would stick with the pre-chosen names for the following reasons:

  1. I think of the world as a salad bowl filled with many different cultures. Each of them retaining their own properties, yet co-existing to make one dish. The advent of the internet has made it possible for even the smallest of businesses to enter the global marketplace making cultural diversity more of an asset every day.
  2. All names are ethnic and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older) disability or genetic information.   A name like George Washington may very well help an applicant move ahead, but the name Barak Obama cannot be used to hold another candidate back.
  3. I generally believe the work place becomes a better place when we are able to acknowledge our cultural, religious and socio-economical differences and use those differences to broaden product appeal and strengthen work place tolerance.

What do you think?