Does Your Name Affect Your Job Prospects?

by Shawanda Greene

Debra Wilson as Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa...

Debra Wilson as Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know that my full name is Shawanda Latarra Greene? By many standards, my name is World Hip Hop g.h.e.t.t.o.

Why didn’t my mama just name me Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson? Yet, some how, this same mother settled on “Derrick” for my older brother’s name. Yep. Derrick. Shawanda and Derrick aren’t even in the same genre!

Before I started applying for jobs in my profession, I was terrified prospective employers would take one look at the name on my resume and disregard me as the stereotypical, sunflower seed eating, sassy, black woman.

For a while, I seriously thought about legally changing my name to something more palatable like my grandmother’s name, Sarah. But, ultimately, I decided against that. I shouldn’t have to alter who I am because of other people’s prejudices.

Plus, I honestly don’t think my name hindered my career progression. A comically ethnic name didn’t hurt Condoleeza Rice *shutters* either.

And here’s why: Employers don’t hire names. They hire people.

Unless your parents give you a dumb name like Adolf Hilter, your career success is largely based on the benefits you provide your customers or your employer as well as the relationships you build.

For instance, I landed a fairly prestigious internship during my junior year of college by networking. A group member in a Cost Accounting class recommended me for an interview with the company where she interned. She did so because I was a freaking awesome teammate. Not only was I brilliant, but I was also a hard worker (and I like to think that I still am). These traits come across in job interviews.

Even if my name was Amber Smith, I think the outcome would’ve been the same. You simply cannot have a negative impression of me once you’ve met me in person or worked with me. On second thought, maybe there are a handful of people out there who despise me.

Either way, I don’t think your name influences your job prospects.

But what if it does? Hmm.

Maybe we can change our names to match the professions we’re interested in. Would you modify your moniker to play to other’s prejudices? So, if you want a job as a software developer, you go with an Indian sounding name. Or if you want a career in investment banking, try appending “berg” or “stein” to the end of your last name.

Isn’t that silly? (I wonder if it works.*shifty eyes*)

Once you’re in front of the hiring manager, then you can wow her with your knowledge and personality.

What do you think? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your name?

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

addvodka April 3, 2012 at 9:11 AM

I kept hearing about this study on the radio that names really do affect job prospects. I don't know if I believe it, because as somebody in HR, I don't really care whose name is on a resume and unless it's really comical (we usually laugh about those), I forget their name by the time I'm halfway through reading the resume.

My real name is very.. basic. Classic. I used to think it was boring and wanted a funner name, but I guess now that I don't have to deal with people not being able to pronounce it. The grass is always greener!


Shawanda April 3, 2012 at 1:45 PM

My name is far from "classic," but the spelling isn't. You should see how many people try to begin my name with a "C". I can say "it's spelled how it sounds" and they'll still look at me with a super confused expression on their face. Too many people have asked if they can call me Wanda. Um, no. Shawanda isn't that hard. I'm still an American, dammit! Just use the sounds commonly found in the English language.


Shaquetta April 3, 2012 at 9:17 AM

YESSSSSS! This is my story. I was just having this conversation with someone the other day. Everyone in my immediate family has traditional names like Ellen and Eric. My mother allowed her friend to name me Shaquetta. My name in total has 22 letters. Can you imagine trying to learn how to spell that at 5 years old? By the time I got to applying for jobs before graduating college I'd embraced my name and had no intentions on changing it ( I really couldn't my middle name doesn't help much either lol). So when I got my first job at one of the top 7 accounting firms in the world I am not excited to tell people my name is Shaquetta, I have natural hair and I worked in corporate America. This was a really good post. Thanks!


Shaquetta April 3, 2012 at 9:18 AM

*now* excited


Shawanda April 3, 2012 at 1:54 PM

LOL! My mom let her six year old son, i.e., my brother, Derrick, name me after a little girl he had a crush on. And although my middle name isn't terribly complicated, I didn't learn how to spell it correctly until I was about 7 or 8 years old. I thought it had only 1 "r". *shrugs*

Your name made me chuckle. I have a friend name Shaquana. Back when I worked for PwC, we'd go to the annual NABA (National Association of Black Accountants) conference. I remember the reaction we'd get when we introduced ourselves to other professionals at the event.

Shawanda: "I'm Shawanda."
Shaquana: "I'm Shaquana."
Stranger: "Shawanda and Shaquana? What the…?!"

I wasn't offended. But these were black folks that should've been used to it.


Gloria April 3, 2012 at 9:20 AM

Awesome article. Love your blogs. I don't think I have ever been discriminated against because of my name, but my name is what most would consider pretty straight forward "Gloria" (if a little "traditional" – I was named for my grandmother). I have also been told (for like my entire life) that I sound "white" and I have had a situation where I've come in after a telephone interview and people looked surprised. I got the job and years later asked them why and they said it was because they didn't expect me to "look" the way I did. I think they were surprised I was black… but I didn't ask them to elaborate… maybe they were surprised I was young… but I doubt it, because I've also always sounded pretty young too (high voice). So sometimes I wonder if that opened doors for me that having a "more ethnic name" would not have, since I didn't know anyone where I interviewed.


Shawanda April 3, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Thanks, Gloria! Do you ever get tired of people singing your name? Gloriaaaa. My Gloriaaa. Hehehe.

I think you bring up an interesting point. I can almost always tell the ethnicity of a person by the way they sound as long as they're not American born and of Asian descent. I assume anyone with an African or Caribbean accent is black. If you don't sound like you're a black American or from Africa or the Caribbean, I just assume you're an immigrant or white. Plus, I get old, southern white men confused with black men all the time. So, I guess I'm not that good at telling a person's race from their voice after all. Heck, I can't even tell by looking at a lot of people.


ImpulseSave April 3, 2012 at 11:37 AM

Thank you so much for this awesome post! I've wondered that, too, but I think you are right: you shouldn't have to change yourself because of someone else's prejudice. Besides, would you really want to work for someone who had a problem with a unique ethnic name, anyway? My name is sort of in the middle. I used to hate it because it was an old woman's name, not a kid's name. And my last name people can never pronounce correctly on the first or even second try. However, I have come to like that my name is very unique and no one else has it! It can become your own brand – you can be "That brilliant woman Shawanda Greene, you know the one I mean…" Haha, you know what I mean?


Shawanda April 3, 2012 at 2:09 PM

I think I'd lose a part of me if I changed my name, but I've decided that when I have kids I'll keep their names interesting yet simple, pronounceable and easy to spell.


Economically Humble April 3, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Nice article! Research from the University of Chicago showed that the name mattered for getting an interview…. if you can get in to an interview thats a different story, but simply having a non white name counts against you. Its disturbing, to say the least.


YFS April 4, 2012 at 8:36 AM

I agree with this statement. “You simply cannot have a negative impression of me once you’ve met me in person or worked with me.”

The problem is, most job seekers do not have the advantages of having a prior engagement or meeting before submitting a resume or these job seekes don’t come with a referral from a friend or trusted source.

Studies have shown (I wrote an article about it including some of these research) that people with socially unacceptable names are overlooked by hiring managers. Your name hinders you if you don’t have an alternate way in.

This was very prevalent back in the 1920′s with Lawyers. Most Jewish lawyers were not allowed to join big firms and had to start their own practices because I the lack of opportunities. Of you had a Jewish sounding name or were non-white you couldn’t join a big firm.

Ofcourse back then racismn / prejuidoce was more in your face but the point is still valid.
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Debt Collection April 5, 2012 at 10:58 AM

haha! I had a good laugh at this article Shawanda. I agree with you though, Derrick and Shawanda aren't even in the same century! haha.
I might change my name to Michael excellantcustomerservice and apply for a shop assistant vacancy?


Marianne April 7, 2012 at 3:29 PM

I recently watched a 'documentary' called Freakonomics on Netflix and a part of it dealt with this exact issue. They suggested that studies had shown that an employer that's given the exact same two resumes but one with a classic 'white' name and one with a more stereotypical 'black' name would be much more likely to call the 'white' sounding name than the other. It was very interesting- in fact the whole show was very interesting! I highly recommend it!


My University Money April 12, 2012 at 12:14 AM

I know a lot of people from my university changed their names in order to make their resume more appealing. Especially Asian people. If they weren't first generation immigrants (and sometimes even if they were) they wanted people to know this. It's pretty well known/proven that this will make a difference in many walks of life. It's funny to me, because as a white kid who loved basketball growing up I tried to do everything I could to get a "ghetto" nickname to stick, and my whole identity was completely ripped off of the "black stereotype".


Letseat April 17, 2012 at 7:14 PM

From my perspective, whether the name is pronounceable, and what language the person speaks, is more important than whether the name simply sounds "ethnic". Before a phone screen I do spend time rehearsing the person's name before I call them if it's long or spelled non-traditionally. I also scan the resume to see if the person went to college in a different country, for example, to see if I need to be prepared for a non-native English speaker. While this just leads to a tiny bit of prep work for me, I can see that others might pass the resume by out of laziness. So while I would make sure to pronounce the name Shawanda to myself before calling, it wouldn't stop me from calling. There are some names out there though that are awfully hard to sound out!


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Nickolas April 17, 2012 at 9:40 PM

The thing is you don't know how many jobs that did not call you because of your name, simply because they didn't call you. So there is know way to track it.

Nobody is gonna call and say "hey Shawanda we decided not to call you in for an interview because of your name, have a good day."


Shawanda April 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM

You're right. There's no way to know for sure who didn't call me in for an interview because of my name, but I got the job I wanted with a company I'd targeted since my freshman year in college. So, I was happy.


Keisha April 27, 2012 at 8:20 PM

I was not getting any note worthy hits on my resume and could not understand why. My name is Keisha by the way. I changed my resume to read K. Nicole and suddenly there were takers. Yes, ultimately it is always about who you know. But, sometimes you do not know the right people for where you are trying to go and then a name like Keisha does not get you very far.


@Cobalt904 May 4, 2012 at 8:21 PM

I believe names DO make a difference. Parents who name their kids some strange names are short-sighted, or even selfish. Ghetto names are plain stupid, just as the ethnic names my grandparents initially named their kids (a couple of them changed their names).


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