What’s in a Name? 5 Tips for Overcoming Name Discrimination

What’s in a Name? 5 Tips for Overcoming Name Discrimination

 A few months ago, a friend and I were joking about choosing “résumé friendly” names for our kids. Naming kids after luxury goods (i.e., Moët, Porsche, Lexus, and Diamond) may be trendy but is inherently troublesome. Studies have shown that these types of names, as well as more traditional African American names, are oftentimes perceived as less professional and cause the bearer to have a longer journey to employment. Corporate assimilation and maintaining racial identity have long battled for primacy in corporate America, begging the question of whether white washing your name is a requirement to achieve professional success?

There are several prominent African Americans who have flipped this assumption on its head; like Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, and President Barack Hussein Obama. Early in Oprah’s career, she was asked to change her name because it was difficult for people to say; she refused and that has likely been the best decision she ever made.

Résumé “whitening” or deleting clear identifiers of race or ethnicity might improve your chances of getting a callback, but who wants to work for an employer who would discriminate against you because of your name? However, if you feel your name is impeding your chances of having your résumé land in a hiring manager’s lap, here are five things you should consider:

  • Provide a phonetic pronunciation — add an asterisk next to your name or in the footer of your résumé with the phonetic pronunciation of your name. It’s helpful to give recruiters a clue about how to pronounce your name. Sometimes name discrimination isn’t about inherent bias or racial discrimination. As a former recruiter, I’ve witnessed colleagues skip callbacks to candidates because they found their names too hard to pronounce. Other times, candidates might not get a callback because the recruiter didn’t know whether to address them as sir or ma’am because the name seemed androgynous based on the spelling. Wrong or right, the candidates’ chances ended at the start of their résumé with their name.
  • Shorten or abbreviate — Candice Quarles founder of CQ Consulting advises clients to either shorten their more ethnic sounding name or abbreviate with initials. You might also consider using your middle name if it’s less ethnic or difficult to say. Quarles says the goal is to get your foot in the door, show your talents and skills, and then change the game. I have friends who’ve made this choice. One dropped her first name of Shante’ on her résumé and instead goes with S. Ashley. Another goes by Ty instead of Tyrone.
  • Link to your success — Add a link to endorsements or a list of references of your work on your résumé via LinkedIn. Truth is, companies are more likely to be drawn to someone already proven and industry-vetted. This way, your name becomes more of a formality as the focus shifts to your accomplishments.
  • Rework your résumé — sometimes it’s your résumé; not your name. Make sure your résumé reads as a strong representation of your professional brand and highlights your skills and experience.
  • Take pride — Research companies that have a strong reputation for supporting people of color and target those companies in your search for employment. Your ethnic name may actually help you with these forward-thinking organizations.




Toni is the CEO & founder of The Corporate Tea, an online resource that provides unfiltered advice to help professionals navigate their careers. Toni is a Career Strategist & HR Blogger with over a decade of experience in corporate America. For more insights and advice, follow her @thecorporatetea