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What’s in a Name?

As I was taking my toddler to preschool on Tuesday, I caught The Breakfast Club in the middle of a debate about people of color changing their ethnic name to give themselves an advantage or foot in the door for jobs and other opportunities. For those who don’t know, The Breakfast Club ( is a Hip-Hop and R&B morning show hosted by DJ Envy, Angela Yee, and Charlamagne the God, in which the latter is from Charleston, SC like myself, so I must support the home boy. 😊 Any who, DJ Envy mentioned that his real name is Raashaun, but he drops “Raa” from his name and introduces himself as Shaun for conference calls and other business engagements because he notices that he is more successful when speaking to other races if he uses “Shaun” instead of his birth name. The hosts were split on his decision with Angela understanding this strategy and Charlamagne completely dumbfounded as to why any person of color would change or omit their name to make someone else feel comfortable. It wasn’t long before this debate stirred up memories of when I witnessed this in action during my career.

My very first paying job was at Kmart during a time when customers looked forward to the blue light specials and the store was always packed. I was hired as a cashier when I was in the 10th grade. After a while, I began working at the service desk: the desk that processes exchanges and returns, handle complaints, supervise the front-end cashiers, etc. There were two of us at the desk when it was busy. The service desk is more responsibility and gives access to things that cashiers who worked the front end didn’t have. One responsibility was to hand out and collect job applications when someone asked about working there. Online and electronic applications did not exist back then; applicants filled out the paper application, turned it in at the service desk, and personnel or a department manager would collect them from an inbox that we kept at the desk.

A young lady came in and filled out an application one evening while I was working the service desk alone. I placed it in the inbox of completed applications for personnel to collect. The next day when I came in, I remember one of the managers looking through the applications and tossing the one completed the night before in the trash. I asked why was that one tossed, and the reply was “that name is too hard to pronounce. She might be lazy, loud, and “ghetto”. I was in shock because I’m in high school and this adult is saying these things to me. Not only that, but she’s a black woman!! It really left an impression on me for several reasons. For one, it took a long time for me to be hired there. If it weren’t for my boyfriend at the time, who also worked there, following up with the personnel manager to be on the lookout for my application, I probably would have never been hired because I had completed what felt like a million applications, but no one called me back either. I wondered if it was because of my name. Did someone think that I would be loud, lazy, and ghetto because I’m black?? That experience left an impression on me so much that when I had children, I was very cognizant of what I named them. I never wanted them to be judged just by their name. No one will ever know that my girls are black just by looking at their name on a piece of paper. We call this resume’ ready.

Unfortunately, Kmart wasn’t the only place where I’ve witnessed this. Resumes’ would be screened out or tossed aside because someone either couldn’t pronounce the name or the hiring manager made assumptions about what type of person they would be based on the name. What’s hurtful to me is that I believe 1000% that I have been screened out from opportunities because of my name. I once tested this theory and did an experiment where I applied to a company as Ebony Dukes; I received no feedback. I applied to the same company with my initials on the resume’ as E. N. Dukes and surprisingly I received a phone call. My guess is that they weren’t sure who or what I was by looking at my initials and last name only. It’s more difficult to do that nowadays because application systems usually require you enter your full name so now you’re going to have to get creative just to compete. So, although I understand Charlamagne’s point of view that we shouldn’t have to change who we are to compete or make others comfortable, the sad reality is that sometimes we as people of color must do what we have to do just to make it in this world.

Do you believe that you or someone you know have missed out on opportunities because of their name? Let’s talk about it! Type your comments below.

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