The name game: How your name can unfairly determine your future

By Rachida Harper on June 24, 2019

“My name is…” is a short phrase, but more complex than one would think. With over 7 billion people in the world, names are essential for people to identify and distinguish themselves from others. A name can convey different meanings, influence livelihood and determine someone’s future. Names also give people the power to judge others without an actual encounter, and that is when things can play out in an unfair manner.

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Emma, Liam, Noah, Olivia and Ava were the most popular baby names in 2018, and they remain highly-ranked in 2019 according to the U.S. Social Security Administration. Because of the commonality of these names, they can be associated with being superior, normal and belonging. The same does not apply for predominately African-American names and other names alike.

African-American and black names have an extensive and distinct history. Slaves would often carry traditional African names over to America to preserve history. These names carried positive meanings and helped establish identity. Other times, Africans were given names by their enslavers, even if already assigned a name at birth. After the emancipation, and the freedom to have a legal name, many slaves renamed themselves and neglected the surname of their former owner.

Traditional black names did not become distinguished from common white names until the 1960s and 1970s during the Black Power movement according to the African American Intellectual History Society. African-Americans chose to give their children unique names, some tracing back to African roots, to represent culture and individualism. Since then, many African-American names have been ridiculed for being too nontraditional, not conforming to social norms.

One of the main reasons why Black names are not only ridiculed but avoided is because they are easily identified as a ‘black’ name. Someone’s name is can be used as a label with many assumptions attached.

Even though someone’s name does not always determine their future, it can play a role in where people end up, according to Business Insider. Easy to pounce names are favored, people with common names are more likely to be hired, and uncommon names are more prone to crime.

In August of 2018, a Missouri health clinic sent rejection letters to over 20 women, denying them of a job because of their names. Applicants Hermeisha Robinson and Dorneshia Zachery said they were denied a job because of their names being ‘ghetto.’ Robinson shared the letter on Facebook and in part, it read:

“Thank you for your interest in careers at Mantality Health. Unfortunately, we do not consider candidates that have suggestive ‘ghetto’ names. We wish the best in your career search.”

The clinic claims it was hacked, but Indeed, a job searching site that hosted the application, believes otherwise.

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In a report with CNN, one woman with a unique situation believes she can relate to the complications of also having a unique name. For LaKiesha Francis, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white woman, having a traditionally African-American name always brought mixed reviews from others. Despite the criticism and endless explanations, Francis says her name allows her to have a small understanding of what it means to be black.

This so-called ‘name game’ does not only affect African-Americans. Asian, Hispanic and Middle Eastern men and women also feel the burden of having uncommon and difficult names to pronounce according to The Washington Post. Many have no choice but to completely change their name or change the pronunciation of their name to have access to an easier life.

Patterns are constantly changing, and so is the popularity of names. There was a time when every name was once a new name, and probably odd to hear. Ultimately, someone should not be judged solely based on their name, but by who they are as a person. In such a diverse world where people are segregated because of the color of their skin, someone’s name should not be used as another weapon of destruction.

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