By Slim Jackson
Every now and then I have the conversation with someone about names. Not nicknames, but government names. Slim Jackson is an alias. If you knew my real name, you’d expect me to perhaps be a preppy white guy that wears polo shirts and khaki shorts. Well, you’d be fairly accurate except for the fact I’m a light-skinned and clean shaven black dude that only intimidates the most suburban and rural. When I was younger and in the inner city public school system, I was often teased for how well I spoke and my name. I sometimes had to break my English and listen in for the coolest slang to be accepted within certain circles. I often wished my name was Ramel, Jamar, Lamar, Jalah, Tayshaun, and you probably get my drift. That was “cool”. At some point, black parents began to move away from “slave” names like Michael, Jeffrey, and Thomas so that they could differentiate their children from their SPF-needing counterparts. I spent time angry at my folks for naming me something so simple and well…white.
But now that I’m a miserable office dweller corporate professional, I couldn’t be more thankful. I’m a recruiter. I look at a lot of resumes and I notice the names. I anticipate an accent when I see certain names on paper. I make that phone call and sometimes I’m actually surprised by how well the person speaks. I know. That’s awful. I shouldn’t stereotype people from other cultures, countries, and continents, but it almost happens naturally. Now if I, as an educated black man, still fall victim to the innate urge to stereotype based on name, I’d figure that it has to be even more elevated for people in the majority. What do you think a job recruiter envisions when he or she sees Funqueefa Taneesha Jenkins or Tang Too Pac on a job application? Rap, 40s, attitude, computers, sweatshops, bad driving? You probably thought a few things yourself when you saw this. No offense if you actually happen to have either one of those ficticious names.
For employers trying to add “diversity” to their companies, the distinct names probably make their jobs a lot easier when they are looking for some pigmentation. For others, who aren’t so fortunate, their names can quickly have them filtered into the unqualified file. I sometimes wonder if my life would be any different if my name were something more “ethnic”. A lot of you will argue life is what you make of it. To a large degree, that’s correct. But in 2008, these names are still in the minority and belong to minorities. Did you change how you sign your name or present your name on paper? Have you went from Shimeek Smith to S. Charles Smith? Do you rock a traditional name like Jeffrey Adams? Do you even think the name is important? I’m curious.
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