Is Your Name Important?
So, what's in a name? Is the name that appears on your employment applications, resumes, and cover letters that big of a deal? The purpose of this article is to discuss the possible impact of first and last names on a person's career trajectory in nursing and non-nursing fields.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 (Paggi, n.d.).
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.Last edit by Joe V on Oct 27, '12
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,033; Likes: 69,300
CRRN, now a case management RN; from US
Specialty: 11 year(s) of experience in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psychOct 27, '12Interesting read. I'm a name nerd, so much of this is no surprise to me.
I have a fairly hard to pronounce name d/t . Once told how it is pronounced, people easily say it correctly. Though my name is of Croatian roots, I am African-American/black.
I find that while names CAN hurt someone (would you really take an application with the name Mykynzieleigh seriously?) in the job search, I do think that credentials can outweigh a name. Take Barack HUSSEIN Obama and Condileeza Rice as examples. They have very unconvential, ethnic names yet have reached high levels of success.
There are many advantages to having a unique name. Growing up, I was the only one in my entire school with my name, I wasn't another Sarah or Katie (we had SO many of those). Having an uncommon name can help someone stand out from the crowd of applicants. I plan on giving my future children unique names for this reason (from Shakespeare and Greek mythology).
However, I think that in the end, work experience trumps all, and I have yet to have any problems finding a job. In fact, I have two and just had an interview yesterday for a promotion. While it IS sad that some employers will judge based on name, I don't think one should want to work with someone who would toss aside a highly qualified applicant over something they had no control over (unless they changed their names from birth). I know plenty of successful people with unusual names and at the end of the day, it is about the person, not the name.Last edit by Joe V on Oct 31, '12Oct 27, '12Quote from ThePrincessBrideTrue. I feel that personality, work ethic, and credentials can tip the scale in favor of someone who has an unusual or hard-to-pronounce name.I find that while names CAN hurt someone (would you really take an application with the name Mykynzieleigh seriously?) in the job search, I do think that credentials can outweigh a name.
However, certain names make me want to cringe. The people who name their children after alcoholic beverages (Chardonnay, Alizae, Daiquiri) need to be slapped, IMHO. Also, many celebrities name their children the wackiest of names, although these rich kids will usually grow up with privilege and connections that will minimize the impact of their names.Oct 27, '12While I will never publicly comment on the name choices of my friends or co-workers, I do wonder how easy little Boo Boo or Dracula (not the names of any actual friends or co-workers, but some are in "that" genre!) will have it being taken seriously when they are older.Last edit by JDZ344 on May 14, '14Oct 27, '12Good article. I have always had a love/hate relationship with my name. It's a one of a kind name, which is great, but it sounds like a stripper name and has only a short name, no longer, more professional one (think Candy/Candace). I'm in my 40s now, and don't like having this little cutesy name. I have often wondered how people take it when they read it and haven't met me.Oct 27, '12Great article! I've a very white first name, and a hispanic last name...so I've the benefit of the former with an expectation of being a native spanish speaker due to the latter. Names are a piece of who we are, and often tell a little about our culture.Oct 27, '12Quote from timmedicoI have a peppy, anglicized, simple, common first name that was popular during the Baby Boomer generation (1946 to 1964). HR personnel might look at the name on my applications and résumé, and without having first met me, assume that I am in my late 40s to mid 60s (I am 31 years old).Great article! I've a very white first name, and a hispanic last name...so I've the benefit of the former with an expectation of being a native spanish speaker due to the latter. Names are a piece of who we are, and often tell a little about our culture.
Many of the females in my age cohort (born in the late 1970s and early 1980s) were named Amanda, Jessica, Nicole, Jennifer, Megan, Melissa, Lauren, Allison, and Alexis.
Then again, certain names have stood the test of time. Young girls, middle-aged women, and elderly ladies are named Catherine, Victoria, Alexandra, Mary, Marie, Elizabeth, Sara, Rachel, Sophia, and a handful of other first names that have remained truly timeless through the generations.Last edit by TheCommuter on Oct 27, '12Oct 27, '12Oh Lord... Poor Placenta!!!
Yes. I worked on and L&D floor. There was a 14 year old that gave birth to a baby. She perked up wanting to name her child "Placenta." We asked her WHY!!!
She said she heard the nurses saying the word and thought it was a pretty name. We told her what it was... and (thankfully?) she made it the child's middle name :/Oct 27, '12I wonder if difficult-to-pronounce, but clearly Western European, names are among those that are rejected frequently? Absolutely NO ONE gets my married last name correct on the first try, including me when I first met my husband, but it's clearly a WE name. It would be interesting to see a study comparing difficult-to-pronounce Western European (Italian, French, Swedish, etc.) last names with Eastern European (Polish, Ukranian, Russian, Serbian, etc.) last names. For the most part, it would take the race and pronouncability (sp?) out of the equation and focus on WE heritage bias.Oct 27, '12Great read, thank you. I have a very, very boring first name. It can't even be made into a nickname or shortened, lol. I often wonder what people would assume of me, based on seeing it written somewhere before having met me.Oct 27, '12Very interesting! My name is not a very common name and it is one that has many different spellings, but the one I have is the most rare. My last name is Syrian, I changed it back about a year and a half ago after my divorce, but when starting my nursing career, I had a very Italian last name.I can tell you in my short stint as a manager, I worked in a newer LTACH and the CEO was black and honestly , wanted to hire mostly black people. I know this because HR told me. So, the specially picked resumes for me to review had African American sounding names.I live in the real world, I wouldn't be surprised if my Syrian last name caused someone to throw my resume aside.Oct 27, '12Great read.
First impressions last. Our names are the first thing any hiring manager sees, interests or disinterest starts from there. A hiring manager needs only one reason to disqualify a candidate for a whatever reason and it could easily be a person's name.Oct 27, '12Many years ago, I was given the following bit of advice - Before you actually name your child, go to you back door, and shout out that name as loud as you can, at least 3 or 4 times. Because that's what you'll be doing for the next 20 years! If it still sounds good, then okay!
And names do account for more than we realize. I worked in the nursery when 'Roots' came out, and many people started using African and Muslim names without knowing their meanings. Many girls were given masculine names, because the long 'e' sound sounds feminine to the American ear, such as Kareem, or Shareef.
I have a name that can be either masculine or feminine, and was given reminders to sign up for the draft!
And my older son has a Hebrew name that is totally masculine, but was usurped by Disney to use in "The Little Mermaid"!
He has done very well for himself, so far!
I make few assumptions based on names!
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