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For starters, I will reveal that I am an African-American female with a very common anglicized first and last name. I am also friendly with a small handful of nurse managers, staff development personnel, and others who have at least some responsibility for hiring candidates. The tidbits that I have learned during my time in the nursing profession are nothing short of eye-opening.
To quickly get to the point, a person’s name can affect his or her career trajectory, either positively or negatively, due to a myriad of reasons. First of all, first names in the United States are largely generational and can shed some light on a person’s approximate age range. Secondly, certain first and last names can reveal a candidate’s racial-ethnic background. Lastly, some small-minded recruiters, human resources personnel, and hiring managers might skip the employment applications with names that are perceived as too difficult to pronounce.
Names are generational.
A person’s name might give clues about her age. First names such as Sadie, Lucille, Norma, and Pauline were popular more than seventy years ago, and as a result, women with these names are more likely to be elderly. Linda, Deborah, Pamela, and Judith were common during the Baby Boomer generation, which is why many middle-aged women have these names. In fact, one of my previous places of employment had multiple workers named Pamela, and all of them were middle-aged.
Jennifer was the number one name in America between 1970 and 1985 according to the Census Bureau, so many females from Generation X and Generation Y will have this wildly popular name. I was born in the early 1980s and many of the girls in my age range were called Amanda, Nicole, Melissa, Megan, and Alexis. A fair number of Millennial generation applicants will be named Emily, Kayla, Emma, Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backwards) and other names that are trendy today.
Names might reveal one’s racial-ethnic background.
I'm an African-American female with a very common anglicized first and last name, so anyone who sees my name on a resume or application would not be able to determine my race unless they’ve seen me. However, names such as Tameka, DeShaun, and Tanisha are stereotypically 'black-sounding.' Names like Margarita, Miguel, and Armando are 'Latino-sounding.' Names such as Chang and Thuy sound Asian.
Having an idea of the candidate’s racial-ethnic background might help or hurt, depending on the circumstances. For example, résumés with white-sounding names have a 50% greater chance of receiving a callback when compared to those with African American names, according to a study performed for the National Bureau of Economic Research by the University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sendhil Mullaina (Dickler, 2009). However, the recruiter or HR director who is purposely seeking a diverse group of candidates might call the applicants with ethnic-sounding names.
A job application with a difficult-to-pronounce name might be skipped.
If the name on your resume looks hard to pronounce and/or isn't gender-specific, it's quite plausible that a hiring manager might (consciously or not) reject it for that reason, alone (Pongo Blog, 2012). It does not stop there. Evidently, those with easy-to-pronounce names benefit from their name’s pronounce-ability at work with more positive performance evaluations and higher status in the hierarchy (
So, is your name that big of a deal to your overall success? Although the impact of names cannot be ignored, I believe that other factors, such as work ethic, interpersonal skills, ambition, educational attainment, willingness to learn, and personal drive, are major contributors to a person’s career trajectory.