What’s in a Name?


racism and discrimination

A few weeks ago, I had one of the most interesting phone calls of my life so far (I genuinely mean that by the way!) which has made me think about things in my usual fashion. The topic up for discussion was names. Ethnic names, to be exact.

My real name is Chayya. I’ve been told that it’s quite an unusual, but pretty, name that divides people in the same way that Marmite does. When I was in school I was one of a handful of non-white pupils. They all had easy-to-pronounce ethnic names like Preeya, Ali and Ravi. Trust my luck to have a very very ethnic sounding name which people couldn’t even spell correctly let alone pronounce! It quickly became the joke of the playground throughout my school years.

The variations of my name uttered by wagging ignorant non-Indian tongues ranged from: “China!” to “Chicken chow mein” and the thoughtfully put: “Chayya the liar with her head in the forest fire.” Children are mean, let’s face it. I thought that when I grew up, things would change, people would mature and not be so thoughtless. I was sadly mistaken.

A recent report by The Telegraph (click to read) showed that during  recruitment processes, recruiters were more likely to shortlist candidates with a “white-sounding name” in comparison to those with an “ethnic name.” Now we could speculate here: recruiters go on talent, people throw the race card around too much these days, we have The Equality Act 2010 etc and etc. Well, interestingly enough it’s worth noting that the majority of CEOs, top TV presenters, politicians etc are all overwhelmingly white (and male). I think that observation alone speaks for itself. As a result, many people of ethnic descent have decided to either Anglicise their names or change them completely.

During the phone call, my friend asked if I would consider Anglicising my name in a job application. It got me thinking as I am going through that process. The thought of someone chucking my CV in the bin at the sight of my name makes me feel sick. Naming and what we call things are more important than we think. It is how we identify the world around us. And a name – well that’s how we are labelled/identified by others and ourselves. It’s central to how we view ourselves and when that process is tampered with or altered, it affects us a lot more than we think because it is so personal. It saddens me in this day and age, where we supposedly embrace diversity, that many of us feel the need to drastically change ourselves in order to “fit in.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have to bite my tongue when someone doesn’t say my name correctly, misspells it, asks what it means, makes fun of it or urges me to have a nickname that’s easier to pronounce. Having an ethnic name is a beautiful thing that needs to be celebrated more. In various mother tongues, our names have such beauty and meanings – why change or alter that? Changing your name is a bit like denying a core part of your existence. So, would I change my name to “fit in?” No.

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7 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. When I was born, my parents attended our local Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) to give Thanks and also partake in the naming ceremony, which involves taking a letter from the Sikh Holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Although this ceremony is now fading (just the naming part), parents still go through the pain of choosing the right name for their children. I don’t think my “first name” has a meaning (Apinder), however phrases like “A PIN”, “PINDA”, “PINDI” and “API” (short for Application Programming Interface) have been much an association. I work with a lot of external companies and spend large part of my life on conference calls, but whenever someone mentions, “We have Apinder on the call”, I feel proud because it’s much interesting then “Paul, Jon, Tim” (no offense though), unless you have a “Cuthbert”, I love that name. Also, if I am on a call and someone mentions another “exotic” name of Asian decent and that person happens to work for our organisation, then I will always drop them a mail to introduce myself. I am a firm believer that it’s not “people” who decide your fate, but a higher force, so no I would never change my name just to fit in or get a job. However, and I will sound a little hypocritical here, a little story. Many years ago a friend of mine went into the jewellery business, his first name is “Lucy”, and he forever curses his parents (especially as he is built like a brick house). Anyway, he wasn’t getting much attraction from clients, so he changed is name on his business cards to “Peter King”..and the rest is history. Everytime his office is called, “Peter King is not around, is abroad on business”. Note, he never changed his name, just his business card, but goes to show!
    “Today you change your name, tomorrow you will change your identity, the day after you will have erased your history”….

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  2. I could relate to you in this post. Fantastic one!

    I would never ever change my name for anything in this world. I have a very beautiful tamil name which is also a bit long and has some of the difficult alphabets of the Tamil language in it. Only my parents and closest family members spell and pronounce my name correctly. People take so much time to get used to my name and I have to prompt them every single time! There have been many instances like when I am leading a group, people tend to skip my name and call out the easier one. I have lost recognition, identity and due credit many times. But I am not bothered . I have a beautiful name and I am extremely proud of it!

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  3. A very, interesting and relevant topic that affects a range of British ethnics. I’m a 2nd generation Italian born here and even though I had a few people growing asking me “ooh what a lovely name, are you Russian?” it never seemed a biggish deal until now.

    My job search has been do unsuccessful that my husband decided to take my CV to his work place, he asked a hiring manager to have a look at it and to be completely honest.

    She had never met me, her first response was “the first thing I see is the name, I’m not this way inclined but I know for a fact that many recruiters will look at the name and think – that sounds foreign” she continued to advise that unfortunately she has known managers to use this method to whittle down CV’s and applications irrespective of the candidates’ skills.

    She said that the main thing she could ask me to try out (seen as I’d tried everything else) was to somehow to use either the English translation of my first name – Catia to Katie/Catie or just shorten it to my nickname which is Cat (my friends usually call me this anyways so no biggie). Her other suggestion was to either eliminate my double barrelled name which includes my maiden name, keeping my husbands name only who is American, or to initialise it as a middle name.

    She also suggested to include in the opening paragraph of my profile that I was born and bred in my local town or something that shows I’m not foreign.

    I decided to test this out and the following week I sent out my CV with my full name and my CV with the anglicised edits. Within 3 days I had a telephone interview and a face to face interview. I didn’t get the job but what I found interesting was that that hiring manager wasn’t even English himself but Romanian.

    Anyways, after that I reverted to my old spellings but after my most recent interview where again the recruiter casually stated how they assumed I was Eastern European I just though right think it’s time to test it again because I need a job this is just ridiculous.

    Catia

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    • Hi Catia,

      Thanks for comment and for leaving it on the blog. I always love reading people’s thoughts on my work.

      I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Truth be told, I refuse to Anglicise my name (partly because there isn’t an Englishy version of my name to begin with!).
      But your encounter with the hiring manager is definitely worrying. It’s made me think twice and I didn’t fully realise the extent of how certain hiring managers think.
      It’s quite sickening.

      I’ve considered writing down my nationality in my CV as well, just to dilute the “ethnic-ness” of my full name. And it’s so sad that in this day and age, people feel the need to really reconfirm their “British-ness” and change a crucial part of themselves to fit in.

      I wish you all the best with your job hunt; I know how demoralising and draining it is. Do feel free to contact me 🙂

      All my love x

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      • Hi!

        You’re very welcome! The funny thing is I never had a problem before I was married and I used my maiden name which totally contradicts everything seens as my husbands name is an English surname! But I understand that there are trends even in employment/recruitment.

        Another thing that I’d like to mention is that, to cover every angle in my job search I wanted to make sure I left no stone unturned. (I am not eligible for jsa or any form of government help, the British government won’t even pay my ni because I’m married and my husband earns over £13,000). I listened to various ‘experts’ and consultants. They re-did my whole CV and cover letter – they were even miffed at why I wasn’t even being called for an interview.

        I had enough a few months ago and decided to go against the rules – I had nothing to lose.

        Instead of a cover letter, I wrote a short paragraph consisting of only a couple of sentences. I changed my CV profile by adding some keywords I liked eliminating the keywords the experts put in.

        Not only did I receive interview requests from all of the applications I tested this with but I was contacted in as little as 3 days!

        Granted I still didn’t get the jobs but I feel this was such an improvement compared to not getting any contact at all!

        It’s complete BS what we are all told about cover letters especially!

        Thanks so much for your best wishes and I wish you all the best too – Ill try not to crack up haha

        Xxx

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  4. A really pertinent, thought-provoking read – thanks for raising this topic.

    I have a name that was taken as is from the Sikh scriptures, therefore, couldn’t really have a ‘correct’ English spelling: Bandana

    Yep, the obvious head garment springs to mind and even after months or sometimes years of working with people, they STILL pronounce my name the way they want to – even after being advised that it isn’t pronounced that way.

    I have developed a pretty thick skin to it over the years, but it shouldn’t be that way. It is part of my identity, not the identity others choose for me.

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  5. Pingback: The Chameleon | Avid Scribbler

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