Strange but true.
We live in a fairly prejudiced world. But “name discrimination” takes the cake. Maybe my diversified work place and my exposure to one of the most liberal work environments in the world (here in San Francisco, CA) has somehow conned me into thinking that things were cool at the office. Not to mention that all the companies I’ve worked for have solid stances on equal opportunity.
While there are many forms of discrimination that continue to proliferate in society, one of the silliest I’ve encountered involves our very own names. Here’s a simple example: what would you think if you came across a highly unusual sounding name? It’s way too easy to form an opinion now, right? Stereotypes abound, and your name can very well dictate how you’d fare in life, in your career and even your job prospects.
As mentioned, I’ve found it almost ridiculous that something that seemed so arbitrarily personal could stand in the way of your financial success and status. Apparently there are studies that prove that your NAME, of all things, can make a difference to your social and financial standing.
You may think this is far out, but bear with me a moment. Take a look at this table. It shows how you can be stereotyped according to your name.
What’s In A Name?
|People Thought They Were…||Female||Male|
|Intelligent||Abigail, Eleanor, Lisa, Meredith and Rebecca||Clifford, David, Edward, John, Samuel, Ned and Tim|
|Leaders||Ruth||Alexander, Dwight and Lance|
|Hardworking||Ada, Ingrid, Marie and Margaret||Jake, Manuel, Ron and Todd|
|Entrepreneurial and Professional||Lorraine and Sylvia||Gregory and Ted|
|Wealthy||Audrey, Paige and Victoria||Lucius, Edmond and Claude|
|Refined||Indira, Calista and Grace||Nigel, Alistair, Vaughn|
|Outgoing||Bernadette, Christy, Elaine, Gwen, Joy, Kathy, Kim, Patricia, Nancy and Wendy||Allen, Cole, Danny, Ed, Gary, Jim, Russ and Rob|
|Accountants (Nerdy)||Minerva and Ingrid||Myron and Reynold|
|People Thought They Were…||Name|
|Bossy||Joyce and Myrna|
|Opinionated||Rhea and Maud|
|Old and Overweight||Dolores|
|Dumb||Candy, Kiki and Vanna|
Source: CareerBuilder.com and BehindTheName.com
But what has this got to do with personal finance? Well actually, a lot. Stereotyping has its financial ramifications which have been recognized through several studies.
Well here are some specifics that prove that your name can wreck your chances of getting ahead, particularly if you have an African-American sounding name.
How A Name Affects Employment and Job Opportunities
A National Bureau of Economic Research Paper shows that job applicants with white names had a 50% chance of getting a callback over those who had African-American names. That is, traditional white sounding names only had to send 10 resumes to get one callback, while those that didn’t had to send out 15 resumes per callback. One of their unsettling findings is that maybe it’s employer bias in play, or the perception that race is tied to productivity.
Other facts from the study:
- Only resumes were reviewed; face to face meetings never took place.
- A white name’s callbacks yielded the equivalent of eight additional years of experience.
- Residential address also mattered to some degree, with more callbacks received for resumes tied to wealthier, more educated or more-white zip codes.
- Names made a bigger impact on results than addresses did.
- Results were the same across occupation and industry categories covered in the experiment.
- For companies with the “equal opportunity” byline, results didn’t seem to make a difference!
- Only when a name didn’t provide a clue to race, were other elements of the resume considered.
- More education and more skills displayed on a resume with an ethnic sounding name didn’t make a difference to the outcome.
- Names that indicated gender also had an effect on results.
- Names that worked in the experiment: Neil, Brett, Greg, Emily, Anne and Jill.
- Names that didn’t work in the experiment: Tamika, Ebony, Aisha, Rasheed, Kareem and Tyrone.
Could initial quick screening of resumes by headhunters cause this discriminatory effect? Imagine going through a huge pile of resumes which you need to whittle down to a manageable size. Without realizing it, an HR representative may be unwittingly applying their immediate impressions on the pile of paper before them. What else can they go on anyway?
How A Name Affects Housing Opportunities
Beyond snagging jobs, it turns out that name discrimination is also alive and well in the rental circuit. Another study by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology revealed these facts:
From 1,100 e-mail inquiries to Los Angeles-area landlords asking about vacant apartments advertised online, the traditional white sounding name elicited 89% of positive replies. A foreign sounding name brought in 66% of replies while the African-American name took in 56%. A landlord’s positive reply consisted of a follow up appointment to show off the property for lease or an indication that the place was available.
How A Name Affects Career Choices
Yet another study has struck fear in the hearts of would be parents. It turns out that kids with gender specific names become discouraged from certain educational interests thus affecting their long term course of study. What this means is that if you are named a girly sounding name, you end up avoiding math and the sciences. Sounds weird but true!
Girls who are given very feminine names, such as Anna, Emma or Elizabeth, are less likely to study maths or physics after the age of 16, a remarkable study has found. The effect is so strong that parents can set twin daughters off on completely different career paths simply by calling them Isabella and Alex, names at either end of the spectrum. A study of 1,000 pairs of sisters in the US found that Alex was twice as likely as her twin to take maths or science at a higher level.
Why would this happen? The explanation given is that like it or not, people have expectations of others based on their name. These expectations affect one’s self-image and cause typecasting. I guess a feminine person is not supposed to be studying math or physics.
This typecasting also works with ugly sounding names or those names identified with lower class or status. Those with lower class names (spelled in an unusual way or with punctuations) would average 3 to 5 percent lower than others with conventional names. Again, this was caused by imposed expectations. From the study, it was scary to hear that teachers who first saw a class roster admitted that they couldn’t help but form impressions of the children because of their names, before they all met.
Bottom line: I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, but think twice before naming your kids something bizarre, different, unique or even ethnic. The world is cruel and there are unfair consequences to doing something as commendable as honoring your forefathers with authentic names granted to future generations of your family line. Also, that immediate profit you can get by offering to name your kid GoldenPalaceDotCom is not worth their future. No matter how tempting it is, don’t do it!
In Conclusion: Forget Stan, Candy or Adolf
I agree with something I read, that “names are powerful indicators of who we are.” Our name serves as the label to our identity, pointing to culture, religious affiliation, sex, social position, ethnic background, tribal affiliation and even age.
Even where I work, more than a few guys have changed their names because, they claim, it was easier to remember and pronounce. What else is this but the first subtle step taken towards assimilation and the fulfillment of their American dream. Because of this, I wonder if to give your kid an edge in life, that you should consider more conventional and ordinary names?
- Can a Black Name Affect Job Prospects?
- A Roshanda By Any Other Name
- If you want to find out the origin of your name, try out this interactive tool by entering your name in the search box.
Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.