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Popularity of the Baby Name Kayesha

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Ethnic/Black Names and the Job Hunt

Yesterday, someone tried to leave the following comment on my Dijonnaise post:

And every one of them was black. Guaranteed.

I didn’t approve the comment, but I did find it interesting. And timely.

Several days ago, reader C in DC directed me to a transcript of The Kojo Nnamdi Show. This particular show had to do with the issues/struggles female prisoners face upon release. One caller suggested that black-sounding first names may impede reintegration:

I have known three black women, one of whom was incarcerated previously, and the other two had difficulties in their life that didn’t involve incarceration. And all three of them had birth names on their birth certificate, names like Shiquanda (sp?) or Jamezeta (sp?), names that basically screamed out, you know, I was born black, poor neighborhood

The caller noted that all three women “ended up legally changing their names” and “they all experienced considerable success after that change.”

Who knows if the caller was telling the truth, but he could be–it’s not outside of the realm of possibility–and that’s the important part.

Several studies and mounds of anecdotal evidence suggest that snap judgments about names may keep certain people (or, more significantly, certain groups of people) from being treated fairly when they apply for jobs.

And I’m not just talking about African-American names. I’m talking Spanish (“Mexican”) names, Muslim/Arabic names…just about any name that doesn’t sound mainstream or “white.”

I’m also not just talking about the United States. This type of discrimination has been observed in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and other places with minority populations.

The Kojo Nnamdi caller brings up a good point: some names can indeed be a hindrance. Here’s a telling quote from résumé consultant Tammy Kabell:

I’ve had frank discussions with HR managers and hiring mangers in the corporate world, and they tell me when they see a name that’s ethnic or a black name, they perceive that person as having low education or coming from a lower socioeconomic class.

So what advice should we give former female prisoners with names like Shiquanda and Jamezeta who are having trouble getting a job?

Do we mention that people with more common (“whiter”) names sometimes have an easier time landing an interview? Do we suggest that they use their first initial instead of their first name? Do we recommend they take the drastic step of legally changing their first name? Or…is it racist to even make suggestions like these?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

(Also, thank you to C in DC for sending me the link to the transcript!)