Fact or Fiction: Do names matter?

Daria Gaither

A myth that has circled the employment realm is that a “ghetto” name can hinder your chances for certain employment opportunities.

Although discrimination based on a name has never been proven, according to a study conducted for The National Bureau of Economic Research by the University of Chicago’s Marianne Bertrand and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sendhil Mullainathan, applicants with “white-sounding” names have a 50 percent greater chance of receiving a callback or interview than applicants with “black-sounding” names.

Raven-Symoné, actress and co-host, recently made a comment on the daytime talk show “The View” about how she would never hire anyone with a “ghetto” name. The comment had viewers all over the country and at Kent State upset.

“I could not believe what Raven had to say. What makes it worse is that she is African-American and she is talking about other African-Americans,” Shakenna Johnson, a sophomore Pan-African studies major, said.

Johnson believes that her name has deterred some employers from continuing with the hiring process based on how it sounds and looks.

“I may not be able to prove it, but I am sure my name has hurt my chances when seeking employment opportunities,” Johnson said. “My name isn’t what you would consider a ‘traditional’ name. When employers see my name, they probably just assume I am some black girl from the hood,” she said.

Although an employer has never directly told her she was not hired based on the sound of her name, she has had employers tell her to change her name because of the way it sounds.

“I used to work for a telemarketing company and my manager once told me that I should not use my real name because people do not respond well to the ‘Shakenna’s of the world,’ ” Johnson said.

Johnson has been discouraged by the treatment she has received based on the name she was given. She feels it is a form of discrimination when an employer denies her application or resume based on her name.

“My name is one of the only things I have to identify myself as. It hurts to know that (it) could possibly keep me from getting a job,” Johnson said. “If my name was Jessica or Abigail, I may have a better chance at employment. I feel as if I have been stereotyped because my name is Shakenna.”

Johnson says names that some may consider “black-sounding” or “ghetto” is actually a reflection of the African culture.

“To me, my name is unique and mirrors my culture. What many people may not know is that my name is a derivative of ‘Shekinah Glory’,” Johnson said.

Christopher Williams, an associate professor in the Pan-African studies department, says that most of the “black-sounding” names have a meaning and although they may not fit into the general culture, they are an expression of identity.

“Giving us those names are an expression of our black identity,” Williams said. “But do we over-compromise and lose our identity? Or do we save our culture and risk employment?”

Williams doesn’t feel that anyone should lose out on a job because of their name.

“I can’t call myself what I want to, but they can call themselves what they want,” he said. “It’s an issue of profiling. Why should anyone be denied a job because of our identity?”

Williams says employers need to be educated about what these names mean.

“Our names don’t have to be intimidating. We have to educate folks about who we are,” said Williams.

But, does the sound of a name really deter employers from hiring certain employees?

Krittika Chatterjee, a career counselor in the Career Services Center, says companies are not denying applicants from diverse backgrounds. Instead, they are encouraging applicants from diverse backgrounds to apply. 

“Companies are actually seeking to make their work environments more diverse and are looking to have a diverse pool of applicants for any open positions,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee said the Career Services Center encourages minority students to find ways to promote their diverse background.

“We ask them to find ways to promote their diversity by either mentioning that they are a member of (Kent State’s) Black United Student organization or that they are bi/multilingual, etc.,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee says belonging to a minority race or ethnicity works in one’s benefit when it comes to seeking jobs and asks people to celebrate their differences rather than hide it.

Daria Gaither is the diversity reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].