What Employers And Recruiters Need To Understand About Name Intentionality

Since name discrimination is based upon the assumptions made by recruiters and interviewers about potential employees’ names being based off their characters, it should be noted that those names were almost always given to them, by their parents or guardians.

Jeannie Mai on the show The Real noted that every name has some degree of intentionality when referencing her brother’s Vietnamese name. What was also noted on that episode was how in the experiment conducted, the subject “Jose” changed his name on his resume to “Joe” and received much more calls because of it. This is, of course, in spite of the fact that both names essentially mean “Joseph,” with “Jose” being the Spanish variant. So, there is not just specifically the whiteness behind this selective discrimination, but also the Anglocentrism–in other words, a name that sounds “more English.”

Name intentionality is universal, since every culture practices it when naming their children. Sometimes, it is named after a person the parents knew or after the parents themselves. Although my birth name is very common, even that had intentionality, since I was named after my father who was named after his father, which makes me Robert Scott III. If anything, my struggle with my name is more comparable to Katy Perry not using her real name in order to differentiate herself from a musician with a different name.

For plenty of other people, however, the struggle with their names are much worse.

In the case of African-Americans, if their names appear “ghetto,” then it would lessen their chances of landing a job–or even an interview. With this rationale, race and class play a role in determining what makes a name “ghetto.” If it is an African/Arab-derived name, like Jamal, then there is the race angle. As for the class elitism, there is the stereotype that such names can only exist in low-income urban areas.

In spite of this barrier, there is a Pan-African purpose for the unique names. In other words, their names may not always come from the original West African languages their ancestors once spoke, rather they could have their roots in Arabic, Swahili, or Zulu. Slam poet Sha’condria “Icon” Sibley explained that her name is derived from the Zulu warrior Shaka who would amalgamate the tribes of South Africa into the Zulu nation. It is also combined with the name Andrea, which comes from the Greek name meaning “man” to create a new compound name. So, it could mean “woman of Shaka (Zulu).” This is not just a feature among African-Americans, but Italians also have a tradition of combining names such as Giancarlo, which in English would be John-Charles; as well as French parents who have named their sons Jean-Baptiste, which literally means John the Baptist. There is also the Jewish name Dov-Ber, which basically means “bear” in both Hebrew and Yiddish respectively.

She also talks about how her sister Tyneesha might be similar to the Shona name Tinashe which means “God is with us.” That’s another part of intentionality, which is the etymology (supposed, folk, or otherwise) that distinguishes a name from everyone else’s. Those names would definitely elicit interest from co-workers and perhaps even consumers.

Shaquille O’Neal is an exception to this rule, because he–with all due respect to him–never has to deal with potential employers turning him away simply because of his name. Quite the contrary, since the diminutive of his name Shaq can be affixed to any product in order to make it sell, even after his retirement from the NBA. In his memoir, he explained that his name Shaquille Rashaun means little warrior, as told to him by his mother.

Of course, if one were to truly analyze the name Rashaun, which is a common type of African-American name, it really involves a lot of etymological digging. What it did mean to his mother was “warrior,” but it completely ignores what it could mean. It could be a portmanteau, like with Sha’condria, of Rashada popular name of Arabic origin meaning “good guidance/sense”– and Shaun–which is the English version of the Irish version of the English version of the Hebrew name Yochanan meaning “graced by god.” So, as a result, it could mean “good guidance graced by God” (how’s that for alliteration!). It may not mean warrior, but a warrior would need good guidance; and he most certainly would need to be graced by God before going into battle!

The point that is to be made to employers is that the intentionality behind anyone’s name, no matter how strange it would appear to them, is that it is a universal idea. Many people within the dominant language-speaking world and without practice it when naming their own children. This is why the case is made for blind application, so that employers and recruiters do not allow bias to affect their decision-making. If anything, if companies were genuinely concerned about diversifying their workforce, they would want potential African-American employees to be named as such.

One thought on “What Employers And Recruiters Need To Understand About Name Intentionality

  1. Interesting article and a great case for blind applications. I do have to make a correction, though. “Andrea” can’t mean woman because it’s derived from the Greek word for man or male (and not in the generic sense of “mankind”). The Greek word for woman is gyneka (γυναίκα). While people can put their own meanings into the names they give their children, if Sha’condria is derived from Andrea (which comes from andras, or άνδρας) then it literally means “Man of, or Manly, Shaka (Zulu),” even as a woman’s name. Still a great name, though, and one she should be proud of.


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